By Caroline Barghout,
The Canadian Centre for Child Protection says it has seen a 40 per cent spike in teenage "sextortion" in the past six months.
Nearly half of the victims are teenage boys, and the statistics are so significant that it has prompted the Winnipeg-based agency to issue a warning to parents across the country.
"We need to get in front of this," said Signy Arnason, director of Cybertip.ca, one of the programs operated by the centre. "We don't want to see any more kids subjected to this."
|Analyst examines reports of child sexual exploitation received on Cybertip.ca.|
Analysts work in a locked room at the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.
Their conversations start off harmless. The teen is then invited to engage in a private chat over Skype.
Eventually they're coerced into taking off their clothes or performing a sex act on a webcam. The victim thinks they are talking to someone their own age, but they're not. They are being videoed by an adult.
The video is then used to extort money or additional sexual content from the teen.
"What we're seeing for the most part is that they're in fact going after money," said Arnason. "So what they'll do is, they'll threaten that they've now got this sexual content [and] that they're going to post it online."
Arnason said the child advocacy group receives a tip a week from a teen victim. She calls that "a big deal" because most will never come forward to report what's happening to them.
"We are imploring parents to get in there and have these good discussions with their kids," said Arnason. "If you leave it alone you're putting them at risk, especially if you know part of what they're doing is going on live webcam."
There are three key points Arnason urges parents to make with their children.
|Signy Arnason, director Cybertip.ca, urges parents to talk to teens|
about 'sextortion.' (CBC)
She says there are computer programs out there that allow predators to play pre-recorded videos over a live stream. For example, they might play a video of an attractive teenage girl undressing to entice a teenage boy to do the same.
Second, it's simple to record what's streaming over a live camera without the other person knowing.
"As a teenager you live in the here and now, you think you've done something, it's live it's over" Arnason said. "They're not contemplating and considering that the person on the other side is quite easily recording everything they're doing which is then used against them"
Lastly, don't ever comply with a predator demands, whether it's sending money or making another video.
|Since 2005, Cybertip.ca has received more than 160,000 tips |
that have led to about 500 arrests. (CBC)
"In most cases they're seeking money and if they don't get it they're just moving onto the next one," said Arnason.
That sentiment is echoed by the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
"Do not pay," said spokesman Daniel Williams. "All you are doing is making them determined to do this to more people. If it stops paying, they'll stop doing it".
Williams says there have been cases where a perpetrator has uploaded a video onto YouTube, but it was taken down after the victim contacted the website.
West African gangs suspected
In 2012, the federal government agency received four complaints about "sextortion." One person had been victimized and lost $100 as a result. So far this year, 23 victims have come forward, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
Show and Tell
|Stephen Sauer and Tari Bernier of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection |
demonstrate how predators use Skype to target teens. (CBC)
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre believes many of the cases are committed by west African gangs.
"Victims are being told to send $800 or $1500 to Western Union in the Ivory Coast or Senegal or, 'I'll put it on YouTube,'" said Williams.
Arnason also urges parents to report their concerns to Cybertip.ca.
Since 2005, the tip line has received more than 160,000 reports of online sexual exploitation of children. Those tips have led to about 500 arrests.
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre says that so far this year, it has had 120 sextortion-related complaints:
One of the issues this report doesn't deal with is how teens come up with the hundreds of dollars the sextortionists demand. The pressure to find that money can lead to all sorts of things a normal teen would never do, thereby increasing the stress and trauma of the event.