Did you know the dangers of the world are no longer isolated by where you live? Those dark alleys or places you wouldn’t let your child go alone are easily accessed through the glowing screen on their phones.
Evil hunts in the once safe haven of your home. Perhaps it's time to lock and guard your online doors and keep your 'neighbors' away from the real treasures of your house – your children. They are even accessed through gaming devices connected to the internet because of chat features.
This is the new version of “Don’t talk to strangers” that every parent and caregiver must know about today.
One 32-year-old man has been charged with sextorting 500 minors, but the FBI believes there are another 300 unidentified victims. He did so by creating multiple identities on multiple platforms as if he were a teen girl. Once he received nude images or videos, then he would sextort them for even more by threatening to publish them online. He even used the victims to introduce him to others he might sextort.
You might not want to think about it, and you might hope this is one of those, “Not my kids” situations. Unfortunately, the FBI website shares under ‘What Caregivers Need to Know’ that:
“The FBI has interviewed victims as young as 8, and the crime affects children of both genders and crosses all ethnic and socioeconomic groups. The victims are honor-roll students, the children of teachers, student athletes, etc. The only common trait among victims is internet access.”
So shocking are these stories, Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore became co-founders of Thorn.org to build technology to defend children from sexual abuse. Thorn offers this definition:
“Sextortion takes on different forms, but at its core, it is the threat to expose sexual images in order to make a person do something. These threats come from both strangers met online and once intimate romantic partners attempting to harass, embarrass, and control victims.”
Online enticement, of which sextortion is a part, has grown by nearly 400% since 2018 according to the chart below from a press kit of Sextortion: The Hidden Pandemic, a new documentary about a high-profile military case that is touring the country right now.
And those are just the ones reported!
Those who extort are relying on the victim to be ashamed and stay quiet which is why the reported numbers are nearly guaranteed to be much lower than reality. What may start as a deceptively innocent chat can lead to grooming a child for sex trafficking.
Suicide and sextortion
Some children don’t know how to tell their parents, so they may run away or take their own lives. Unfortunately, sextortion is on the rise for pre-teens and teens just as the suicide rate is too. Whether there is a direct connection hasn’t been completely determined yet.
One of the first studies looking at it, Understanding the Link Between Sextortion and Suicide, attempted to explore the commonalities among three high-profile cases that ended with suicide. They warned to assume the discoveries always apply to the general population would be a mistake due to the small sample size.
Even so, their analysis showed a common theme in those three cases: fear, helplessness, hopelessness, shame, humiliation, self-blame, and general distress. All of these are antecedents to suicide. The researchers shared a valuable but frightening insight:
“In particular, shame is a potent risk factor for suicide. In guilt, one has behaved wrongly, and one can apologize. In shame, people want to hide from others, and suicide is the ultimate way of hiding (Lester, 1997; Mokros, 1995).”
What to do
There are a lot of things you can be afraid of here, but those fears must be quashed even if it is difficult. The result you desire, for everything to go away and for it to be like before, will probably not occur. That’s scary. I feel your anger and frustration. But don’t take either out on your child or the children you are caring for as it will only increase their angst too.
Consider these four thoughts to guide you:
- Pray for wisdom. I’ll share a favorite with you, “Lord, give me the wisdom to know what to do, the courage to do it, and the ability to do it in the most loving way possible that brings honor and glory to your name.” You’re going to need God’s guidance because only Jesus can break the chains that enslave us. Life is not always easy, but God is always good.
- False perceptions have real consequences. You can believe everything is fine, or you can know everything is fine. The distinction between your desire to believe versus to know will determine what actions you will take when discussing this with your child. Will you get an app to help monitor the phone activity? Take the phone away? How much potential confrontation are you willing to endure for the safety of your child even if he/she is antagonistic?
- Anything you feed will grow. If you are approaching your child and the trust is already low, then this will be harder than if you have more trust. For some, no matter what they do, this will be a blow to the child’s sense of autonomy and will probably bring “Don’t you trust me?” questions. It isn’t about you not trusting them, it’s about you not trusting the rest of the people – some with incredibly bad intentions. Not everyone in the world is your friend, and the internet has created a rather safe place for evil to hide and hunt right in your home from anywhere in the world.
- Anything you ignore will fester. This isn’t the time for delay. Once pictures or videos are out on the internet, they aren’t coming back. And feeding someone who is extorting your child (and possibly you) more pictures or money won’t help either. Seek help in the additional resources below. Remember, if you feed the offenders anything, they will grow!
Bert Harper, a host for Exploring the Word, offers this advice if you find out your child has been caught in these schemes, “Love them. Don’t disown them. Seek Christian counsel.” He mentioned a website Dr. Tim Clinton shares when “Asking for help is hard. Finding help shouldn’t be.” It is connect.aacc.net.
Obviously, since sextortion is a crime, you should report this to the proper authorities. Your situation may have just the right information they needed to capture and prosecute someone so others won’t have to experience this from the criminal who is hurting your child.
FBI sextortion page – This page has answers to questions you may still have even after reading the blog above. More importantly, they share the answers to questions you didn’t even know to ask.
StopSextortion.com – This link takes you to a Thorn.org website and provides seven steps to get help and minimize the damage if sextortion is already occurring. In addition, it offers three steps on keeping safe. If you text “Thorn” to 741741 you will be connected to a trained Crisis Text Line counselor who will support you anonymously.
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children – This nonprofit organization was started by Congress and acts as a “…reporting center for all issues related to prevention of and recovery from child victimization.” Please note, that the link takes you to missingkids.org which is the correct web address. They help with a dozen issues including family abductions, online enticement, autism and wandering, and sextortion.
EndSexualExploitation.org – This link takes you to the National Center on Sexual Exploitation which works with an international coalition of 600 groups. They provide information on a variety of facets related to sexual exploitation. Their law center brings charges against corporations and entities that promote sexual exploitation. To apply for legal representation, visit sexualexploitationlawsuits.com.