The internet, while offering a myriad of benefits, has also presented a new spectrum of dangers, particularly for our children. One such danger is sextortion, a devastating form of online sexual exploitation. This article will explore what sextortion is and how we, as parents and guardians, can safeguard our children from it.
What is Sextortion?
Sextortion is a form of online sexual exploitation where a perpetrator blackmails a victim using explicit images or videos. The perpetrator typically obtains these materials by tricking the victim into sharing them or by hacking their device. The threat often involves exposing these materials to the victim’s friends, family, or the public unless the victim meets their demands, which can range from sending more explicit content to performing sexual acts.
An increase in sextortion cases has been noticed recently, with over 3,000 minor victims targeted in the past year across the United States. These schemes commonly occur on social media sites, gaming sites, and video chat applications where young people feel most comfortable. Predators often use fake accounts to gain the trust of minors, frequently targeting boys between 14 and 17 years old, although victims as young as 10 have been reported.
Steps to Protect Your Children
1. Education: The first step in protecting your children from sextortion is to educate them about the dangers of sharing explicit images or videos online. Explain that once an image or video is shared, they lose control over it, and it can be exploited by anyone.
2. Monitor Online Activity: Regularly check your child’s social media accounts, messages, and emails to keep an eye on their online interactions. Be vigilant for any unusual or suspicious activities, such as requests for explicit images or videos.
3. Use Parental Controls: Parental control tools can help restrict access to certain websites and apps and can also monitor your child’s online activities. Choose one that suits your family’s needs.
4. Encourage Reporting: Let your children know they can come to you or another trusted adult if they encounter any suspicious or uncomfortable interactions online. Assure them they will not be in trouble for reporting these incidents.
5. Teach Personal Information Protection: Ensure your children understand the importance of not sharing personal information online, including their full name, address, phone number, or any other personally identifiable information.
6. Implement Two-Factor Authentication: Two-factor authentication provides an additional layer of security for online accounts. It requires a second form of verification, such as a code sent to a phone, making it more difficult for hackers to access your child’s accounts.
7. Keep Devices Secure: Regularly update antivirus software and ensure all devices are password-protected. Keeping your devices secure adds another layer of defense against online predators.
If Your Child Becomes a Victim
In the unfortunate event that your child becomes a victim of sextortion, it’s important to remember the following steps:
- The predator is at fault, not your child or you.
- Seek help before deciding to comply with the predator’s demands.
- Report the predator’s account using the platform’s safety feature.
- Block the predator and do not delete any messages or the profile.
Sextortion is a serious online threat to children, but by taking these steps, we can help protect our kids. Education, vigilance, use of available protective tools, and open communication lines can create a safer online environment for our children.
United States Department of Justice, “Sextortion Crimes Increase: Talk to Your Kids Now” [URL: https://www.justice.gov/usao-wdpa/pr/sextortion-crimes-increase-talk-your-kids-now]