Victoria police are urging parents and caregivers to be vigilant about youths’ online activity amid a disturbing rise in online sexual extortion — or “sextortion” — that largely targets young men and teen boys as young as 13 and 14.
Sextortion is a crime, said Chief Del Manak, and its psychological and social impacts on those who are preyed on are often significant.
”I know it can feel awkward or uncomfortable, but talking to a trusted adult — whether a parent, teacher or a VicPD officer — about what you’re experiencing can be the first step in stopping it.”
Police said sextortion is a “sophisticated cybercrime” that often involves those responsible contacting victims through such social-media platforms as Instagram or Snapchat.
Perpetrators frequently pose as teenage girls or women who are interested in a sexual relationship, before requesting intimate photos and videos.
They then threaten to share the images with a victim’s family members, friends, school community and/or employer unless the victim hands over money.
Police said teen girls and young women can also be targeted, but two-thirds of the 27 sextortion cases investigated by Victoria officers in 2022 focused on males.
The Canadian Centre for Child Protection has seen an increase in sextortion cases, as well, with 92 per cent of them involving boys and men. Many more sextortion cases have likely not been reported.
The centre has seen losses to victims ranging from as little as $9 — the amount of money a youth had in their bank account — to $7,500, with about 200 incidents being reported each month and a 150 per cent increase in reports to cybertip.ca over the past six months.
In general, females are targeted more for additional images and males for money, police said, with males often seen by criminals as more likely to be risk takers.
Parents and caregivers can help teens stay safe by talking to them about online interactions, police said.
They cautioned that those who engage in sextortion are skilled at deception and manipulation, and said anyone who talks with police about an incident will be listened to and not judged.
Police said it’s important never to comply with a threat, since it can make the situation worse and lead to additional demands.
Resources to help are available at the Canadian Centre for Child Protection website: dontgetsextorted.ca.
The site refers to sextortion as blackmail, and warns that livestreaming can be readily recorded — so thinking something is OK because it’s live is incorrect.
“Trust your instincts, be skeptical and cautious,” the site says.