The director of the Winnipeg-based Canadian Centre for Child Protection (C3P) says adolescent boys are being “aggressively” targeted on social media as part of a concerning spike in sexual extortion cases nationwide.
Crime data released Tuesday showed a concerning increase in the number of “sextortion” cases, with Cybertip, the national tip line for reporting online child sexual abuse, saying there’s been a 120 per cent increase in reports of online luring between January and June.
According to C3P, of the 322 cases opened in July of this year, 92 per cent of the victims were boys or young men, half of whom were under 18.
C3P’s Lianna McDonald said Thursday that social media companies aren’t doing enough to protect young users.
“This analysis makes it clear that offenders seek out children where they are easily found: on the social platforms they engage with for hours each day,” McDonald said.
“This is an ongoing problem that is getting worse, and so it really does beg the question about, what are these companies doing to keep children safe?
“It is incredulous that social media platforms allow total adult strangers to directly reach out and target our children without any consequence.”
The incidents typically begin, the centre said, with children being tricked into believing they’re interacting — usually in a sexually-charged conversation — with someone their own age.
The victims are then convinced to send intimate photos of themselves, at which point the extortionist will demand money under the threat of releasing the images to the victim’s family or friends.
An alternate method involves the extortionist sending nude images of children to the victim, then threatening to call the police — unless money is paid — claiming the victim is in possession of illegal child sexual abuse material.
Crime data released by Statistics Canada this week showed an overall eight per cent increase in non-consensual distribution of intimate images from 2020-2021, as well as a rise in indecent and harassing communications and uttering threats.
C3P says parents should have regular conversations with their children about online safety, establish guidelines around who kids can talk to on what apps, and make sure they feel comfortable talking about any interactions that make them feel uncomfortable.