Could Your Child Be A Victim of Sextortion?
Seventy-eight percent of American teens own a cell phone. A quarter own a tablet. More than 90% have access to a computer at home. Three-quarters use their devices to access the internet. Do you know what your kids are doing when they’re online? Child sextortion may be closer to home than you think.
Unfortunately, there is a chance that they may run into predators online who convince them to take and send explicit photos. When the predator has one photo, he often uses the child’s shame and fear of being caught to force him or her to take even more nude photos. This crime is so common that it has a name: “sextortion.”
The Victimization of Ashley Reynolds
Lucas Michael Chansler was a prolific sextortionist. His method was to impersonate a 15-year-old boy online and initiate chats with teen girls. After gaining their trust, he would ask for nude photos. The girls who complied often thought they were anonymous and couldn’t be traced. But Chansler was able to find many of them and demand additional pornographic photos. If the girl didn't comply, he would threaten to post the first photos online or send them to her parents. Almost 350 girls fell into his trap, resulting in thousands of nude images and videos.
Ashley Reynolds was one of those girls. At the age of fourteen, she was contacted by someone she thought was a teen boy who claimed to have nude photos of her. He threatened to send the photos to her Myspace friends unless she sent him a topless photo. She sent the photo.
Then almost a year later, Chansler contacted her again and demanded more photos. At first Ashley ignored him, but then he started texting her. She was so afraid her parents and friends would find out about the first photo that she agreed to send more. Chansler continued to blackmail Ashley for months, until her parents finally found explicit photos on her computer and confronted her about them.
Ashley and her parents went to the authorities. FBI analysts were able to trace the username Ashley had for Chansler to an internet address in Florida. Chansler was located and arrested, and last year he pled guilty to multiple charges of child pornography production. He was sentenced to 105 years in prison.
Authorities have identified 109 of Chansler’s victims. Ashley came forward to tell her story in the hopes that some of the remaining 250 victims can be located, and so that they will know that Chansler is no longer a danger to them. The FBI has published a list of the usernames and Email addresses Chansler used in the hopes that someone will recognize them and help identify additional victims. The FBI's Office for Victim Assistance has also posted a confidential questionnaire on their website which victims or others with information about the case can complete and submit.
Amanda Todd - A Tragic Victim of Child Sextortion
Unfortunately, sextortion cases can have much more tragic endings. At age 13, Amanda Todd began video-chatting with strangers online. One of those strangers asked her for topless photos—a request he repeated for a full year. When Amanda finally complied, that stranger threatened to send the photo to her friends and classmates unless she gave him new, more explicit photos.
Still, Amanda’s sextortionist circulated her photos online. Amanda became a victim of cyberbullying as a result. She changed schools several times to avoid being tormented, but each time the sextoritionist sent the photos to her new classmates.
In September of 2012, Amanda made a YouTube video that documented the pain she felt from the abuse she had suffered. One month later, she took her own life. In January of 2014, a 35-year-old Dutch man was arrested in connection with the case on charges of extortion, internet luring, and child pornography. Amanda Todd was not his only victim.
Keeping Your Children Safe Online
From the time they’re little, we teach our kids about “stranger danger” in real life. They know not to get into a car with someone they don’t know, but they are often more trusting of the people they meet online. How can you protect your children from these internet creeps?
- Monitor what they’re doing online. What sites are they going to? Who are they chatting with? Are they talking to kids they know from school or extracurricular activities, or are they chatting with complete strangers?
- Use filtering software to make sure they aren’t venturing onto parts of the internet where you don’t want them to be.
- Restrict their phones so that they can only call or text numbers that you’ve approved in advance.
- Don’t forget about gaming consoles. All modern consoles allow gamers to initiate chat or voice contact with each other in at least some of their games.
- Talk to them about the risks of interacting with strangers online. Make sure they understand that when they send photos to anyone, they could be seen by everyone. A great rule of thumb is to never send a photo (of themselves or someone else) that they wouldn’t want Grandma to see.
What if you suspect that your child is in contact with a potential predator? One thing you shouldn't do is to attempt to contact him yourself. You may inadvertently give a criminal more information about your child and where you live. You should report it to your local police department, but they may not have the time or the resources to check out your suspicions.
A private investigator may be your best bet. An investigator can work to identify the people your children have come into contact with online, and through a criminal background check, can determine whether any of those contacts have a criminal history that may be cause for concern. Private investigators are also experienced in conducting the kind of surveillance that can get the information you need without putting you and your family at greater risk.
Mike Garroutte has more than 30 years of experience as a private investigator, including criminal background checks and surveillance services. Call us at 714-432-9911 to speak with an experienced Orange County private investigator, or contact us for more information.