Police said the two-week investigation – dubbed Project Hook 2.0 after a similar project in 2018 – also led to charges of making sexually explicit material available to a child for six of those arrested.
Stephen Sauer of the Centre for Child Protection said parents can reduce the risk their kids will be victimized by speaking with them about online interactions, adding contact can often occur across multiple platforms.
“We encourage parents to get engaged with their child in discussing their online activities, looking at what types of apps they are using, gaining knowledge of the sites, the games that they are playing,” Sauer said.
“It is important to provide our child with ways of getting out of uncomfortable situations online. Provide them with specific messaging they can use to stop the communication,” Sauer said.
“We know children are often scared, embarrassed, or blame themselves when these situations occur. It is important that they understand they should come to you immediately if they are uncomfortable with any online interaction and that you are there to assist them, no matter what has happened.”
Sgt. Rick McDougall said the bust was part of ongoing proactive investigations by Winnipeg’s Counter Exploitation Units, and that there may be more charges in future.
“Part of what we’re doing right now, we have seized devices that were used, and we’ve asked for judicial authorization to examine those devices, so there could be more charges coming,” he said.
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McDougall said police represented themselves online as underage kids, 14 or younger, and were encouraged that a number of the people they engaged with dropped the conversation once they were presented with the “child’s” age.
“We engaged a total of 112 individuals,” he said. “Many continued on very friendly conversations – nothing criminal.
“Thirty-six individuals ceased contact once the age was established, and that indicates there’s a common public perception that this isn’t acceptable behaviour.
“I feel there’s a common misconception that these types of luring investigations involve an element of trickery, but it’s really more seduction than trickery. It happens through a process of grooming. A lot of these individuals will be really up-front about how old they are and what they want from a child.”
Six of the eight men arrested, police said, sent sexually explicit photos to what they believed was a child.
Police are encouraging Winnipeggers to learn how to engage with their children about the topic of online luring by using the resources on the Cypertip.ca Online Luring Safety Sheet.
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