Canadian authorities warn youth of increasing risks of sending nude photos
This article contains discussion of sexual extortion and suicide.
Covid-19 was not just a virus pandemic, it was a catalyst for an epidemic of loneliness. People all around the world were inside by themselves, with only the internet to turn to for human connection. People are lonely and spending more time online, and unfortunately, lonely people online can be easy to exploit.
Earlier this year, Metro Vancouver RCMP issued a warning about the rising number of “sextortion” scams aimed at young people, especially adolescent boys. There have been similar warnings shared in Alberta and Ontario.
These types of scams come in many different forms, but the basic premise of most of them is to obtain nude photos or videos of the victim and then threaten to release it publicly to their social circles if a sum of money is not paid. Scammers usually take on the persona of a girl similarly aged to the victim and befriend them online, “catfishing” them. They will then convince the victim to sext with them, and once they have sufficient material, they will demand payment, usually with a time sensitive deadline, in exchange for not exposing the content.
Most British Columbians probably know the story of Amanda Todd, a teenage girl from Port Coquitlam who hanged herself in 2012 after enduring relentless cyberbullying, stalking, and sextortion online. The Dutch man who drove Todd to suicide was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 2022.
Just last year, a Manitoban teenage boy committed suicide within three hours of sending an explicit photo to and being blackmailed by someone who he thought was a teenage girl on Snapchat.
Other variations of these scams include manipulating images of victims. Scammers will photoshop regular photos of the victim to appear sexual and use that against them. In other cases, once the offender has some leverage against the victim, they will use that to demand more pictures and videos to be sent.
If something like this happens to you or someone you know, one of the most important things to do is to remember to stay calm. This may seem obvious, but these scams purposefully utilize young victims’ panic and sense of shame. Try to imagine being a teen boy thinking you just met a girl online, only to quickly be threatened with having your nude photos sent to your family and friends. You would not be thinking straight.
It is crucial to talk to someone about what you’re going through, and report any threats, especially if you are a minor. Exploitation and possession of child pornography are serious crimes. The persecution of these offenders can be difficult, as they are often from other countries. As long as the offenders have the content, they can continue to demand more and more from the victim.
It’s important to remember that anything you send digitally has the possibility of existing indefinitely. Sending explicit photos of yourself to anyone comes with many risks. Platforms like Snapchat or Instagram that have “disappearing” photos are not any safer, as there are many ways to work around the features and permanently save the content.
Even if you fully trust who you are sending images or videos to, you cannot be sure of what someone will do with that content if or when your relationship with them changes. If you do send explicit content to someone, make sure it is fully consensual, and be wary of including identifying features like your face or tattoos.
There were over 50 000 complaints sent to the RCMP’s National Child Exploitation Crime Centre in 2020-2021, 510 per cent more than seven years prior. With the nature of this type of crime, it is also possible that many cases go completely unreported due to the victims’ shame and embarrassment surrounding it.