FBI says “sextortion” is affecting thousands of children - WFMJ.com News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

FBI says “sextortion” is affecting thousands of children

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The FBI is warning parents, educators, caregivers and children about the dangers of what they call “sextortion.”

A news release from the FBI says sextortion is a type of online sexual exploitation. They say individuals coerce victims into providing sexually explicit images or videos of themselves, often in compliance with offenders' threats to post the images publicly or to send the images to the victim's friends and family.

The FBI says they have seen a significant increase in sextortion activity against children who use the Internet, typically ages 10 to 17, but any age child can become a victim of sextortion.

Sending just one inappropriate image to another person online could become the catalyst for sextortion if that image, shared publicly or with their family and friends, is considered compromising to the victim, according to the release.

The FBI says offenders easily misrepresent themselves online to appear to be friendly and age appropriate or simply an adult who will listen to a child. The relationship can be manipulated to groom the child to eventually send inappropriate images or video to the offender.

The FBI also warns that children may send images or videos to a known individual on purpose, but an offender may come into possession of those images or videos through the sextortion of the original recipient or if the original recipient puts the image on the Internet and the offender comes across it.

Offenders can gain information from the online presence of potential victims by reviewing posts and "friends lists" and pose as an acquaintance, another teen from the same or a different school, or a stranger with similar interests.

Friends lists may serve as a source to identify additional victims once the sextortion process starts. Once a child becomes a victim of sextortion, the victimization may last for years.

The FBI has identified cases in which children committed suicide, attempted suicide, or engaged in other acts of self-harm due to their sextortion victimization.

The coercion of a child by an adult to produce what is considered child pornography carries heavy penalties, which can include up to life sentences for the offender.

The FBI says they do not treat a child as an offender in the production of child pornography as a result of their sextortion or coercion.

The FBI says the following measures may help educate and prevent children from becoming victims of sexual exploitation:

  • Make children aware that anything done online may be available to others;
  • Make sure children's apps and social networking sites' privacy settings are set to the strictest level possible;
  • Anyone who asks a child to engage in sexually explicit activity online should be reported to a parent, guardian, or law enforcement;
  • It is not a crime for a child to send sexually explicit images to someone if they are compelled to do so, so victims should not be afraid to tell law enforcement if they are being sexually exploited;
  • Parents should put personal computers in a central location in the home;
  • Parents should review and approve apps downloaded to smart phones and mobile devices and monitor activity on those devices;
  • Ensure an adult is present and engaged when children communicate via webcam; and
  • Discuss Internet safety with children before they engage in any online activity and maintain those discussions as children become teenagers.

The FBI outlines what to do if you believe you are or someone you know is the victim of sextortion:

  • Contact your local law enforcement agency, your local FBI field office (contact information can be found at www.fbi.gov), or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (1-800-the-lost or Cybertipline.org);
  • Do not delete anything before law enforcement is able to review it; and
  • Tell law enforcement everything about the encounters you had online. It may be embarrassing, but it is necessary to find the offender.
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