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Human trafficking survivor says online sextortion of B.C. boy is heartbreaking, frustrating

Click to play video: 'How to protect kids from ‘epidemic’ of online sextortion'
How to protect kids from ‘epidemic’ of online sextortion
WATCH: The online sextortion of a 12-year-old boy who took his own life is once again raising issues about social media. Advocates say things are getting worse in Canada, with experts calling sextortion an epidemic. Angela Jung has more on the warning and advice to parents and caregivers. – Nov 28, 2023

Alexandra Ford remembers the moment she saw a headline about 12-year-old Carson Cleland’s death.

The Prince George, B.C., boy died by suicide on Oct. 12 after being the victim of online sextortion, RCMP said Monday.

Ford is a survivor of human trafficking and now uses her experience to advocate against human trafficking and she is also an academic and survivor consultant.

She said Cleland’s death brought a range of emotions, from the tragedy of a fellow mother losing a son to anger.

“Especially the work I do, the advocacy work I do,” Ford said. “Stuff like this gets me so frustrated because being unwilling to have uncomfortable conversations in our schools, in our families, in our communities means that children don’t have the knowledge and the safety that they need to be able to navigate these incredibly difficult situations.”

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Click to play video: 'Sextortion warning after Prince George boy dies by suicide'
Sextortion warning after Prince George boy dies by suicide

Ford said parents and guardians should be having conversations about consent, healthy relationships, and boundaries.

“These are conversations that can happen early and often,” she said. “We think of those conversations as ones that we kind of wait until our kids are a little bit older when they’re first navigating intimate relationships. But the reality is we can start talking about consent with our kids at, you know, 18 months old, at two years old, we can talk about healthy relationships before they’re navigating intimate relationships because they’re already navigating relationships with their friendships and their siblings and their coaches and their teachers.”

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Reports of sextortion, the practice of extorting money or sexual favours from someone by threatening to reveal evidence of their online sexual activity, are on the rise, Prince George RCMP said.

Sextortion is most prevalent in youth between the ages of 13 and 18, police said, but recent stats from Cybertip.ca show teen boys are most at risk.

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“The way boys use technology and social media is different, their exploration of sexuality is generally different, putting them at risk for a lot of these issues,” psychiatrist Dr. Shimini King told Global News.

Click to play video: 'Warning to parents after suicide of B.C. boy linked to sextortion'
Warning to parents after suicide of B.C. boy linked to sextortion

Carson’s mother, Nicola Smith, told CKPG News Sunday that they were involved in Carson’s life but maybe they needed to do more.

“Talk to your kids about predators and all the things that’s happening and the safety of online,” she said. “As much as younger kids hate parents going on their phones, maybe they have to.”

Following Carson’s death, the federal government said it is another example of how online threats can create real-world harm.

Canada’s public safety minister said Tuesday that the long-promised online harm reduction legislation will soon be introduced.

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Ford said one of the best things parents and caregivers can do is talk to kids about how it’s an online world but it can affect everything in the real world.

“I caution when I teach about online safety, I caution parents to first look at their own use of their online world and their own online presence and what they’re sharing online and how much information they’re giving,” she added.

“And are they being kind online, both anonymously and not anonymously because they’re setting the framework for how their kids will treat the online world and how they’ll act online.”

Click to play video: 'Canadian experts call for more safety following B.C. sextortion case'
Canadian experts call for more safety following B.C. sextortion case

Ford said everyone can benefit by treating the internet as a part of our lives that is not going away and we have to teach kids how to use it safely.

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“First your kids are in your arms, right? Like you have full control over everything. Same with when they’re first using any sort of online application as their maturity and your trust in them grows. It goes from them in your arms, to you holding their wrists, to them being allowed to hold your hand to them being allowed to walk next to you, to eventually the freedom and autonomy to walk across the road by themselves.

“It should be the same sort of gradual steps with an online presence.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911. 

The Canadian Association for Suicide PreventionDepression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 — all offer ways for getting help if you, or someone you know, is suffering from mental health issues.

For a directory of support services in your area, visit the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.

Learn more about how to help someone in crisis on the Government of Canada website.

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