Add sextortion to the list of predatory threats the Internet is delivering to your children’s smartphones and computers. And the FBI says the threat is increasing, rapidly.
For those unfamiliar, sextortion occurs when an adult coerces anyone under the age of 18 to share a sexually explicit image of themselves over the Web. What makes sextortion especially pernicious is the predator’s use of that same imagery to extort more images, money, even sexual acts from the victims.
“These predators are really good at targeting youth,” says FBI special agent, Kiffa Shirley. In many cases, the sextortion begins with the promise of paid modeling work, cash payments, or outright threats. The photos may start out as merely suggestive, but once received, the sextortionist is able to extort more and more from his victims (most predators are male).
“This starts the cycle of victimization that is very hard to break out of because, now, it’s not one picture, it’s several pictures, it’s videos,” notes Brian Herrick, assistant section chief for the FBI’s Criminal Division.
Shirley’s Montana office recently secured an 18-year prison sentence for Tyler Daniel Emineth, a 22-year-old Billings’ man who used Facebook to contact 348 women and underaged girls (one girl just 14) to send him sexually explicit photographs. He was caught when the father of a 15-year-old girl grew suspicious of his daughter’s activities and discovered evidence of the extortion.
“Young people don’t seem to have an on-guard mentality when it comes to strangers contacting them through the Internet,” said Shirley. “And many teens feel less inhibited about sharing online.”
The FBI says prosecutions for sextortion have increased 60 percent over the past five years and there are no signs of that trend slowing.
What can and should parents do? First, ensure that your kids are aware of the threat and that they should never, ever, share any explicit images of themselves, even with friends (sextortionists often will enlist the help of younger individuals to help them gain access to their targets).
Second, let your kids know that if they do experience a threat, that they are not in trouble. The FBI says predators will, ironically enough, use the threat of law enforcement against their prey, warning that they – and not the predator himself – will get in trouble for their actions.
Last and most important, keep open, friendly, non-emotional conversations going with your kids, particularly as they move into the teen years – a time when kids are most at risk of outside influences.