The organization recently said the national tipline it operates, Cybertip.ca, had a 57 per cent increase — 68 in 2018 versus 107 in 2019 — in reports of adults contacting children ages 8 to 12 to engage in sexual activities via live stream.
The numbers don’t surprise Saskatoon Crown prosecutor Lana Morelli.
“Live-streaming has become huge… The adult can ask the child to perform sexual acts or have them perform sexual acts with either another child or another adult,” she said.
“We are seeing more and more of these files coming through the court.”
Morelli also said offenders are going after very young boys and girls.
“It is very easy for predators to find children (online),” Morelli said.
“If your child has a phone, they’re at risk for being targeted… they could be getting messages from any sort of social media.”
RCMP Staff Sgt. Scott Lambie, the provincial co-ordinator of Saskatchewan’s Internet Child Exploitation (ICE) unit, said they have seen a 30 per cent increase in their file caseload over the last year.
“The trend here is that our workload has been steadily increasing for all types of child exploitation offences. We do a considerable number of Internet safety presentations for children, teens and adults,” Lambie said.
Statistics from the ICE unit are as follows (total files/ total charges):
- 2015 – 374 / 76
- 2016 – 301 / 97
- 2017 – 307 / 103
- 2018 – 403 / 120
- 2019 – 519 / 71
It is a growing trend Morelli said she knows all too well.
“Unfortunately, we have a lot of it in Saskatchewan… we have a great ICE unit and they’re doing their best to keep up with the demand, and we’re not,” Morelli said.
“When I first started about six years ago, a lot of it was peer-to-peer file sharing… Now, the majority of the files that I see are luring or making arrangements to commit an offence against the child.”
As a mother herself, Morelli shared her own advice to other parents.
“I have the same talk with my kids and say, ‘do you really want a police officer to see your naked body?’” she said.
“Talk to them about being safe and that doesn’t include ‘don’t talk to strangers’ because when adults try to friend or lure kids online, they’re not acting as adults usually. They are acting as other children or they’re acting as people that the child knows.”
Cybertips.ca program manager Catherine Tabak said screengrabs from live streams can be used against tweens to embarrass or harm them.
“A lot of the situations that we see are children of that age group not understanding the risks or consequences as it relates to connecting with people that they don’t know online,” Tabak said.
“We’ll often see situations where an adult has actually used some sort of software or taken screenshots of a live stream and they use that to coerce children into engaging in sexually explicit activity or complying with demands.”
“(Snapchat’s) quite exciting and fun but it can also be used for nefarious purposes. And with that means the messages disappear… there’s ways that we can get those images and the text messages (back) but it takes longer and it leaves children vulnerable,” Morelli said.
The C3P has tips for guardians to help keep kids safe online:
- talk to your tween about the risks associated with live-streaming;
- help tweens set up privacy settings. With a private account, users can approve or deny followers, restrict who can view their content and limit incoming messages to followers only. Work together to decide who to accept as followers; and
- remove devices from tweens’ rooms before bed and consider disabling the Wi-Fi at night. Many times tweens stream at night from bedrooms when parents are asleep or unaware.
Tabak said many kids are starting to get access to technology at younger ages now and conversations need to start happening with them in regards to online safety.
“Oftentimes, when parents have that open line of communication (with kids), they’re able to interfere with that (outside) communication at early stages and also help their child feel more comfortable with coming to them when something’s gone wrong,” Tabak said.
“You hear (youth) saying that they don’t feel comfortable getting their parents involved because they fear consequences. So that open line of communication is very, very important in the early stage and then throughout as they gain more unsupervised access to technology.”
The C3P is reminding guardians it’s important to tell their tweens it’s never too late to ask for help.
–With files from Jackie Wilson