Washington County Attorney Pete Orput and Woodbury Department of Public Safety Chief Lee Vague last week announced an alarming increase in sextortion cases involving juveniles. Multiple cases are currently under investigation by the Woodbury Department of Public Safety. Sextortion is the act of extorting a victim after they share intimate sexual photographs or videos. The majority of the sextortion cases go unreported because the victims feel too scared to tell anyone. 

These sextortion cases often involve a targeted child between the ages of 14 and 18 years old receiving an online “friend request” from an unknown individual of the opposite sex. During the communication, the targeted child believes he is speaking to a juvenile female around the same age. The child is often targeted online from their social media profile or known web presence through a sport or school organization. Once the request is accepted, the targeted child receives private messages. These messages start off innocently and quickly turn sexual in nature. After a limited level of trust is gained, the targeted child is asked to exchange sexually explicit photographs. If the child sends a sexually explicit photograph, the communication then turns to a threat of exposing the pornographic image with the child’s social media friends or to pay an amount of money to avoid exposure. On some occasions, the targeted child or parents have paid the sum of money to avoid the explicit photographs exposure online and other times the targeted child refuses to pay the sum of money. On those occasions, the pornographic images are sent to the child’s social media friends. 

Imran Ali, Assistant Criminal Division Chief and Director of the newly created Special Victim Division took this opportunity to address parents. Ali stated: “Juvenile online exploitation is an enormous and increasing threat. Social media continues to present opportunities for predators to groom and exploit our children. Parents should talk to their children to ensure that they never speak to a strangers or disclose any private information including sending any photographs. As technology trends evolve, so does the behavior of these predators. A simple conversation with your child can stop them in their tracks.” 

John Altman, a Woodbury Department of Public Safety Police Commander stated: “Parents should take the time to discuss the real threats that exist in the social media world. Particularly during the pandemic, when kids are separated from their friends in person, the lure of new acquaintances can be tempting. It is important for kids to know who their friends are, and a good rule of thumb is to limit social media friends to verifiable people. Consider reviewing your children’s social media friends list with them and ask how they know the people that are in their online circle.” 

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