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Here's what parents and youth can do to prevent or deal with sextortion

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With sextortion being a growing problem in Canada, there are tips and resources online to help parents, caregivers and youth address it.

According to Cybertip.ca, reports of sextortion to the Canadian tip line rose 150 per cent. Sextortion is a form of blackmail where predators threaten to publicly release a victim's sexual content if the person does not provide money or more intimate images or video.

Concerns about sextortion have resurfaced following the suicide of a 12-year-old boy in British Columbia. Prince George RCMP said the boy was found with a self-inflicted gunshot wound at a residence on Oct. 12. They said they believe the boy killed himself because he was a victim of sextortion.

The most important advice for parents and caregivers, according to the Canadian government's public safety website, is to be aware of what's happening with youth and speak regularly with them.

Tell them you are available to talk any time and that it's OK to come to you with any problems, even if they think they made a mistake, though they may be reluctant to open up, according to the government’s online resource.

Other tips include speaking to young people about online safety, privacy, establishing boundaries, healthy relationships and consent, using use real-life examples they can relate to. The government's resource also says to encourage youth not to give in to pressure and stop communicating with anyone who threatens them or makes them feel uncomfortable.

PARENTS ENCOURAGED TO START CONVERSATIONS EARLY

Carol Todd of Port Coquitlam, B.C., says the conversations about online safety including sextortion should begin early. Her teenage daughter, Amanda, died by suicide after years of bullying and cyberstalking in 2012.

"The kids need to know this is for the safety of them and not give the eye-roll," she said in an email to CTVNews.ca. "Many times I have been asked, ‘At what age should we begin these talks at home?' There are no age limits when it comes to safety in the digital world."

Paul Davis, a social media and online safety educator, based in Vaughan, Ont., says it's critical for victims to seek help and for parents to have a relationship with their children so they're not afraid to talk about this problem.

"One of the key messages I leave parents is the relationship you have with your child is paramount,” Davis said in a phone interview with CTVNews.ca. “Children must not be afraid to approach their parents and guardians if they encounter any situation. And the reason some kids have tragically taken their lives is perhaps they were afraid of how their parents may have responded to the matter."

To help put a stop to the incidents, he said, educating youth is key – particularly advising them not to take intimate photos of themselves and share them online because "the internet never forgets."

"You want to prevent sextortion? You don't take a picture of your body," Davis said. "If you understand how technology works, you don't take pictures and transmit them. There's no such thing as doing it safely. There's no such thing as 'no one will know.' Yes, once it's out there, that picture is in the hands of someone who can misuse it against you."

YOUTH URGED TO REACH OUT FOR HELP

Those under the age of 18 who have experienced online sexual violence, such as sextortion, can reach out to NeedHelpNow.ca, which is owned and operated by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection Inc. and supported by Bell. CTV News is a division of Bell Media, which is part of BCE Inc.

NeedHelpNow.ca can help get accounts suspended or removed and connect victims with more services in their area such counselling, therapy and peer support.

Youth with thoughts of suicide or self-harm are encouraged to call Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 for immediate support.

According to the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, a naked photo or video of anyone under 18 years old is child pornography.

To avoid being a victim, the charity said youth should never give in to the threat, stop all forms of communication with the individual, including blocking and deactivating accounts, and speak to an adult they trust about the problem.

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