Talk to kids about online safety, expert says

A cybersecurity expert says the case of a Central Saanich teen accused of 29 sex crimes, including making child pornography and extortion, is a reminder for parents to talk to their kids about staying safe online.

Seamus Martin Weeks is accused of offences involving at least 15 minors, but Central Saanich police said there could be more victims who have yet to come forward. He was arrested at his Central Saanich home on June 29 for offences that allegedly occurred between November 2015 and June of this year.

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The charges relate to communicating with minors for the purpose of committing an offence, making, possessing and accessing child pornography, and extortion, which together have the hallmarks of a “sextortion case” in which the attacker connects with someone online, baits them into taking off their clothes and then threatens to share the images if money is not paid.

Central Saanich police would not confirm if this was the case, and they did not make public the arrest when it happened in June.

Darren Laur, a retired police officer who runs an Internet safety business called the White Hatter, said perpetrators of sextortion often connect with teens on websites such as Chatroulette or Kik instant-messenger service.

He said often the person will create a fake profile to appear younger and stalk their target online to gather personal information.

“They’ll creep you for a while; once they know your likes and dislikes they will change their profile and then connect with you pretending to be a 15- or 16-year-old,” Laur said.

The person gains the teen’s trust, sometimes chatting over weeks or months.

“I worked with a 16-year-old girl who was baited for six months before he decided to exploit her,” he said.

As soon as the person has a nude photo, they can use it for extortion.

This is exactly the type of online torment that led to the death of Port Coquitlam teen Amanda Todd. The 15-year-old was lured into showing her breasts online, which led to intense bullying online and at school, which eventually caused her to take her own life in October 2012.

A Dutch man, Aydin Coban, is facing five charges in relation to Todd’s death.

Laur said after doing presentations to 292,000 middle school and high school students in Western Canada and Washington state, he has been contacted by 127 children who were suicidal because they had been victims of sexual exploitation or cyberbullying. A third of those cases involve sexting.

Late last year, Laur was contacted by a 16-year-old girl in B.C. whose ex-boyfriend put nude photos of her on her Facebook profile and then changed her password. It was on her public profile for four hours until the RCMP could have the photo removed.

“All it took was four hours to emotionally and physically destroy that girl,” Laur said.

Research in Canada and the U.S. suggests that one in four teens are sexting.

Laur said teens are often too embarrassed to tell their parents or police if someone is threatening to release nude photos. They feel ashamed and blame themselves.

That’s why it’s important for parents to have open and frank conversations with their kids about online safety, he said.

“If parents don’t tell their children what the difference is between healthy sexuality and pornography, we’re leaving it to the pornography industry to do it,” Laur said. “The consequences are devastating.”

While anyone who shares sexual images of a minor can be charged with child pornography, last year the Canadian government passed an anti-cyberbullying law that makes it illegal to share “intimate images” of someone without their consent, regardless of their age.

As for the Central Saanich case, police are encouraging any other victims to contact them. Weeks has been released on bail on several strict conditions, including to abstain from drugs or alcohol, avoid contact with the victims, avoid areas where minors might be present, and not possess electronic devices or access the Internet.

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