Police and child advocates are urging parents and caregivers to talk with their children in light of the recent death by suicide of a 12-year-old Prince George, B.C., boy.
Carson Cleland‘s parents told Global News he was the victim of sextortion and police said they are seeing a huge increase in those cases.
The BC RCMP Integrated Child Exploitation or ICE Unit said in 2022 more than 8,000 cases were referred to them by the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children.
In 2023, that number has already doubled to more than 16,000 cases.
“We have a public health emergency on our hands,” Signy Arnason, with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, told Global News.
“And we’re now losing children to this issue. The reason that this is happening isn’t because parents aren’t being vigilant. Parents care. Parents are engaged. They can’t be with their child 24/7. Kids have access 24/7 and we’ve allowed offenders to reach into children’s lives and access them in an unprecedented way.
According to the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, 29 per cent of children said they have been sent sexually explicit material online and 36 per cent said they are asked to show or send nude photos at least once a month.
B.C.’s attorney-general told Global News said the province introduced the Intimate Images Protection Act in order to try and prevent sextortion from happening online.
It also gives young people a place to come forward to get their images taken down and find support.
“We’re investing in further police resources with the four Child Exploitation Units and the RCMP through Minister (Mike) Farnworth,” Niki Sharma said. “I think we need to continue to step up our response to this and it is very troubling.”
She added that her role is to protect the most vulnerable and the young people in B.C.
“I think education system, parents, you know, young people supporting each other, all the things that we can do to make sure people understand that this is on the rise, they understand that we need to address it and that we tell children that if you’re experiencing sexploitation, you are not alone. You should not feel ashamed. You should reach out and there will be support there for you.”
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