Oregon students are back in class now, and many of them are carrying cell phones in their pockets. Laptops, tablets, and gaming systems are in the daily mix, too. Each of these platforms represent a growing and pervasive influence in the lives of our children. Much of the time, these devices serve an important purpose. Sometimes, though, they become a virtual gateway for real-life consequences.
With the start of the school year, the FBI is launching its #StopSextortion education campaign to help families and schools understand more about the growing problem of sextortion and how to protect young students from these predators. Oregon educators are welcome to request a packet of campaign materials, including posters and other resources. Those requests can be made to the Oregon FBI at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is Sextortion?
The FBI is seeing more and more cases involving sextortion, particularly of young kids... sometimes as young as seven or eight years old. The extortionist finds children and teens on social media, through gaming apps, or through other online platforms. He will either find victims who respond to attention from an adult, or he will pretend to be another child. Either way he will groom the victim, using flattery or gifts. Those gifts could be real or something as simple as virtual tokens or extra progress in a game.
Eventually, he convinces the child to send a naked photo—and one is all it takes. If the child tries to pull away, the extortionist will threaten the victim with exposure, telling the child that he will send the photo to friends and family or post online. Over time, the extortionist continues to threaten while escalating demands, which can include the production of more explicit photos. He may even command that the child perform sex acts alone or with siblings and friends.
For too many parents, the thought is that it can’t happen to my child, and it can’t happen here. Unfortunately, it can on both counts.
What can parents do to protect their children?
Often children and teens are so concerned that they will get in trouble or lose their devices, that they are reluctant to come forward. It’s up to you— the parent—to develop that open, honest line of communication. Start with some short conversations, and ask:
-When you are online, has anyone you don’t know ever tried to contact you?
-What would you do if they did?
-Why do you think someone would want to talk to a kid online?
-Why do you think adults sometimes pretend to be kids online?
-Has anyone you know ever sent a picture of themselves that got passed around school?
-What do you think can happen if you send a photo to anyone—even a friend?
-What if that picture were embarrassing?
Finally, consider using what you’ve just learned to start the conversation. “Hey, I heard this story on the news today about kids getting pressured to send pictures and videos of themselves to people online. Have you heard anything like that before?”
What to do if sextortion has already taken place:
If your child discloses that he or she is the victim of sextortion, report it to the FBI by calling 1-800-CALL-FBI or online at https://tips.fbi.gov.
If you are a victim and not ready to talk to the FBI yet, go to a trusted adult. Tell that adult that you are being victimized online and need help. Remember - you are not the one in trouble. Criminals will try to make you feel unsure, scared or embarrassed. Your willingness to talk to a trusted adult, though, may just be the key to keeping this predator from hurting someone else.
Students, parents and educators can find more tools and information on the FBI's website at https://www.fbi.gov/stopsextortion.