Sextortion: A growing dark trend

The FBI has seen a drastic increase in the number of cases involving children and teens being threatened and coerced into sending explicit images online.

It’s a crime called Sextortion, and has lead to over 20 teen suicides this year. Supervisory Special agent Brenda Born says that the Minneapolis field office of the FBI ranks 3rd in the country for Sextortion cases.

Sextortion can start anywhere you post, Snapchat, Facebook, Tinder, Instagram, gaming platforms, the list goes on. It starts with the adult predator using images that are not them to make it seem like they are a kid. They may have multiple pictures of the same person, and that person is real but they are a victim.

Once the predator gains the trust of victim, they will request nude images from the victim. Once they have them, that’s when the exploitation comes in.

Sextortion can go two ways, either financial or the predator wanting more pictures.

The FBI has seen an uptick in financial Sextortion cases. Born says her case load has doubled from this time last year.

If the victim refuses to send more, the predator then threatens to share the images with family, school friends, the teen’s sports teams etc. Born says this leads to the kids feeling hopeless and embarrassed.

She wants those kids to know they are not alone, and that you are not in trouble if you do fall victim to a Sextortion scam.

Here’s what Born says you should look out for as a parent:

  • Becoming distant from family, friends and hobbies
  • They have a new “friend” on social media who is being personal and flirtatious
  • Hiding their phone
  • Spending a lot of time alone

Here’s what you should do if you fall victim:

  • Do not delete messages
  • Do not send any money
  • Contact law enforcement or a similar agency like PAVSA who can help

The word Sextortion is not something that kids recognize, says PAVSA youth advocate Carly Hiti. Hiti says she works with many of the schools in St. Louis County to educate kids about the dangers of Sextortion.

Hiti says kids don’t know the word, but they know the action. “Many kids say they have friends who have experienced this or they have themselves.”

Hiti says what many kids and adults do not know, is that taking nude photographs under the age of 18 is against the law. It’s illegal to even take the picture, even if you do not send it out.

Duluth Police officer Jeremy Graves is with the Sex Crimes unit and says law enforcement can get warrants for Snapchat if they need to. This is another law that Hiti says kids don’t know about.

Graves says what’s hard about these cases is the predators are not usually from the United States. “We can’t track them down, says Graves. If they do happen to be from the United States it is a felony charge.”

The internet is not going away, kids are going to talk to other kids online. Born says that educating our youth to make smart choices online is the only way we can slow this insidious crime down.

Born and Hiti both tell me that it starts with parents having open conversations with their kids is key. “These conversations even as adults are uncomfortable, but they are vital to keeping our kids safe. Shame grows in dark places and the that’s the last emotion we want kids to feel.”

Born says routine conversations are important as well. “In my house we have a routine checklist, did you brush your teeth, make your bed. etc. This is one of those conversations. It needs to be routine.”

Parents also need to educate themselves. Hiti says that a lot of kids feel like their parents don’t understand the way the internet works.

NetSmartz is an interactive website that uses animation to educate kids about internet safety. They have resources for parents as well.

Here are other resources for parents:

  • Thorn uses tools to help defend kids from online predators.
  • NCMEC helps with image removal and reporting.
  • Cybertip is another reporting resource.
  • PAVSA is a Duluth non-profit that has various resources for youth going through sexual harassment
  • has more information, and case resources
  • DPD can help with any legality

Born mentioned that the FBI Minneapolis field office had a Sextortion case with over 1,000 victims. She says they have identified over 750 of those so far.