Police warn of recent rise in sextortion cases

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There may have been a recent increase in the amount of young people being blackmailed by online predators over sexual images and videos, according to a release shared by Coquitlam RCMP, the Port Moody Police Department, and School District #43.

Police have received a “a large number of money-motivated sextortion reports” in which youths have been targeted, according to the release.

On a national level, there was a 56 percent increase in sextortion incidents from March to August 2022, according to Cybertip.ca, an organization that monitors online sexual abuse and exploitation of children.

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Sextortion often begins on websites including Instagram and Snapchat. Young males are tricked into believing they are flirting with a young female and – after a few hours or in as brief a period as 20 minutes – there’s an exchange of sexual content, according to information provided by Cybertip.ca.

In other instances, the extorter blackmails the victim by surreptitiously recording the victim over a livestream.

The extorter tends to demand money immediately, threatening to share the photos or video and sometimes vowing to destroy the teen’s life if they don’t get the money via an e-transfer, PayPal, Venmo or online gift cards for Amazon or Visa. The amount of money extorted has ranged from $9 – the amount the victim had in their bank account – to $7,500.

“The suspects rely on the fear and shame in order to extort anything they can from the victim who may be too afraid to seek help,” stated media relations officer. Cpl. Alexa Hodgins in a press release. “We want those victims to know that it’s okay to ask for help by speaking with an adult.”

Victims should not comply with a blackmailer’s demands and instead cut off all communication with the extortionist and reach out to police, NeedHelpNow.ca and Cybertip.ca. Victims should deactivate but not delete any of the accounts used to communicate with the extortionist, according to Cyptertip.ca

Click here to see the RCMP’s guide to Internet Safety Tips for Parents.

‘Global epidemic’

Ten years after the death of Amanda Todd, Aydin Coban was found guilty of five counts related to the online sextortion of the Port Coquitlam teenager. Following the August verdict, Amanda’s mother Carol Todd described sextortion as a ‘“serious global epidemic.”

The frequency of online child sexual exploitation in Canada has “generally been on an upward trend” since 2014, when the data first became available, according to a report from Statistics Canada.

In 2014, analysts documented approximately 50 incidents of online sexual exploitation and abuse per 100,000 children. By 2020, the rate had increased to 131 incidents of exploitation and abuse per 100,000 children.

Self-reported victimization studies show that, in general, “only a fraction of sexual offences are reported,” according to Statistics Canada. “As a result, police-reported data likely underestimate the true extent of this form of abuse in Canada.”

Investigations hampered

Overall, charges were laid or recommended in 32 percent of all online child sexual offence incidents investigated by police, according to Statistics Canada.

Investigations tend to be hampered by the proliferation of new devices and the “improved anonymity capabilities” of offenders.

The move to online learning during the pandemic may have come with risks, according to Statistics Canada analyst Dyna Ibrahim.

The victims of child sexual exploitation tend to suffer: “psychological difficulties, negative sexual development, and subsequent substance misuse and depressive symptomology,” Ibrahim wrote.

The targeted children may also continue to be victimized by the actual or threatened redistribution of their images, “long after any contact abuse has ended,” according to Ibrahim.

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