The COVID-19 pandemic will forever be remembered for impacting the lives of every person on the planet. And while we are struggling to save our businesses, secure our jobs and support those around us, it is easy to lose track of our children that had no choice but to engage almost constantly with a harsh online world, traffickers lurking around every corner. And whilst most parents try to enforce some control over screen time and the use of internet filtering software, few are aware of the dangerous terrain that their children are now navigating.
If you are thinking, “not my child”, then this article is for you.
The pandemic has seen a radical increase in the number of sextortion cases worldwide. For example, a recent report authored by Cybertip.ca, Canada's national child sexual abuse and exploitation tipline, reports a 62% increase in sextortion cases in 6 months, with teen boys aged 15-17 being the prime targets. (1)
So what is Sextortion?
Sextortion refers to the practice of forcing someone to perform sexual acts by threatening to reveal sensitive information about their sexual activity or to harm them.
For teenagers, it often starts with a friend request on social media. Online traffickers create fake profiles, pretending to be the same age or a little bit older than the teen and taking a romantic interest in him/her. This might come exactly at the time that your teenage son is exploring his sexuality, trying to find answers online for questions that he wouldn’t dare to ask you! Or your teenage daughter who cannot wait for a handsome older boyfriend to whisk her off her feet.
Within a very short time, the perpetrator will build a trust relationship with the child and extract sensitive information such as their school, location, friends and the status of their relationship with their parents. The goal is to isolate the teen from his/her friends and family as quickly as possible. The perpetrator now has control and will start to push for some sexy or nude photos and might even send some photos themselves to show that the trust is mutual.
Once in possession of the photos, the perpetrator will start to push for more and more sexually explicit materials, threatening to disclose the child’s identity or harm his/her friends or family if they don’t comply.
By now the child is terrified, trying to cope with feelings of guilt, shame and fear – desperately trying to regain control of the situation. What started as online flirtation or curiosity, has now turned into a sextortion nightmare.
The following behaviors should be a red flag to parents:
Child becoming withdrawn and isolating him/herself
A sudden change in friends
Decline in academic performance
Change in sleeping patterns
An obsession with a specific website or game
Becoming extremely angry when asked to take a break form their online activities
Becoming secretive about online activities
Becoming upset after using the internet or looking at his/her phone
So what can parents do?
Firstly, have regular open discussions with your children about online dangers. Make sure that they know that you will support them, even if they made a terrible mistake.
If your child indicates that he/she has been exploited, STAY CALM! Your child needs to see that you are emotionally stable and can calmly take control of the situation.
Calmly write down all the facts, and then contact the police or your local human trafficking hotline. Parents in Japan can contact the ZOE hotline for support in English or Japanese on 050 3185 3322 or contact us via email or LINE.
Most importantly! Take care of your child emotionally and consider professional counselling or support.
To learn more about protecting your children online, please download our free Internet Safety guide for parents.