Now, more than ever before, teenagers have almost complete access to the internet. Most have smart phones with a connection at their fingertips all the time. Unfortunately, what can come with that can be dangerous. Namely child sexual exploitation, which is becoming an increasingly pervasive problem.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children discusses trends they are tracking on their website, “The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s CyberTipline receives reports regarding child sexual exploitation, including “sextortion”. Sextortion is a relatively new form of sexual exploitation that occurs primarily online and in which non-physical forms of coercion are utilized, such as blackmail, to acquire sexual content (photos/videos) of the child, obtain money from the child or engage in sex with the child.”

The following is a Public Service Announcement put together by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, which they created along with the Department of Justice to demonstrate how a teenager was blackmailed into sending more and more explicit images and videos to someone she met online. Click here to watch the video.

The FBI has put out the following suggestions for parents to help protect against sextortion:

For Parents :

  • Supervise children’s computer or mobile device usage. Devices like smart phones are more difficult to manage due to their mobility and technical capabilities. As teenagers’ brains are not yet fully developed, they often struggle with anticipating consequences or impulse control. It’s important to discuss with your children appropriate uses for devices when they are given access to them. This includes communicating with others online and sending photos. Parents may want to maintain their child’s online account access information with the child’s understanding that the parent can log in at any time.
  • Communicate with your children. Have age-appropriate discussions with your child about the dangers associated with communicating with unknown people online, sending photos, or engaging in other risky behavior online. In an effort to protect children from online predators, it’s important to educate them about sextortion and the motivations of those who extort children. Let your children know they can come to you without fear of reprisal, and that you have a genuine interest in their safety and online activities. Those exploited through these crimes are victims, no matter what they did or how they responded to the threat.
  • Layer security. Employ basic technology security measures. Use strong passwords and update software regularly. Never open attachments to e-mails unless you are certain of the sender. Use a firewall, anti-malware software, and consider use of encryption for your hard drive. Keep in mind that some malware attacks are targeted; meaning criminals may customize their tools so that more simplistic anti-malware programs do not detect them and victims are more apt to take the bait. Do not assume technology alone will protect you; you must also do your part to protect yourself.

The trend is frightening. If you know of a teenager in your life who you feel might be a victim of exploitation, please seek help for them immediately. Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 is available to help assess the severity of your teen’s situation and guide you to getting not just the right help, but the best help.