Child exploitation experts say they’ve detected a spike in reports of online “sextortion” cases involving teen boys.
The Canadian Centre for Child Protection says 65 boys reported incidents to Cybertip.ca in 2015-16 – an 89 per cent increase from the previous two-year period of 2013-2014. Reports involving girls jumped 66 per cent.
While 65 male victims may not seem like a large number, executive director Lianna McDonald says the jump clearly establishes that boys are increasingly at risk of online threats.
“We need to pay attention regardless,” McDonald says from Winnipeg, where the centre is based.
“We know the seriousness of it. This isn’t necessarily all about quantity, it’s about severity.”
What’s not clear is the reason for the increased reports.
“Is it that they’re more aware of who we are to report? Is it because it’s a growing problem?” she asks. “The marker on this one is we didn’t really have it before. And not only are we hearing about it but now we’re hearing about it from other agencies also, which corroborates something different.”
As a result, the centre launched its first awareness and prevention campaign for young males on Tuesday.
It uses humour to reach boys with a bizarre-looking mascot – the hairless, pink-skinned naked mole rat. The creature is meant to spark conversation and offer an alternative image boys can send when asked for nudes.
The unconventional approach is a bid to “cut through the clutter for an audience that’s not paying attention,” says McDonald, adding that fear-based campaigns don’t seem to work with boys.
The group launched a website offering confidential online help, as well as information for boys, educators and parents looking for ways to start the conversation.
Overall, reports to Cybertip involving both genders jumped 140 per cent between 2015 and 2016.
The officer in charge of the Toronto police’s child exploitation section says boys are victims of sextortion “way more than people out there think.” He recalled one offender who admitted to tricking more than 1,200 boys into becoming victimized.
“All of these boys thought they were sending these (images) to a girl their age,” says acting Det-Sgt. Paul Krawczyk.
“Imagine the ones we’re not catching and then imagine the ones that we don’t know about.”
Parents should warn their sons: experts
He urged parents to warn sons of the danger, and point out that girls typically don’t ask to see explicit images.
Girls still remain the bigger target of online predators, adds McDonald.
While boys tend to be targeted by unknown adults overseas, girls are exploited in a variety of ways.
“There’s the non-commercial side to it where you’ve got kids, for malicious reasons, who are blackmailing girls for more photos so they can share it,” says McDonald.
“You also have things like the Amanda Todd case, very notorious scenarios where you have adult men who are again capturing them on video doing things. And they’re not necessarily appreciating who they’re talking to and they think they’re in some sort of actual relationship. It’s much more diverse for girls.”
Boys are often targeted by strangers who send them pre-recorded videos of young girls and urge them to reciprocate, says McDonald.
This mostly involves 13- to 15-year-olds, who can become suicidal as pressure mounts.
“We have young kids phoning us and saying: ‘I’m supposed to make a payment at Western Union by 6 o’clock or they’re going to send my picture or my video to all of my friends and family and I’m desperate,’” she says.
“It’s not difficult to appreciate that these kids are in over their heads. And because they’re so deeply humiliated about what’s about to happen and what they’ve done, they’re panicked and they’re not sure what to do.”
The Canadian Centre for Child Protection is a national charity dedicated to the personal safety and protection of children.
Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press