• Sexual Exploitation of Children in Ontario

    Ontario-wide child exploitation investigation has led to more than 100 people being charged.

    It’s likely that you have heard of the recent news that an Ontario-wise child exploitation investigation has led to more than 100 people being charged. If you haven’t, here’s a recap:

    The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), along with 27 policing partners, make up the Provincial Strategy to Protect Children from Sexual Abuse and Exploitation on the Internet. This investigation, named Project MAVERICK, was completed in October and resulted in 277 investigations, 168 search warrants, and 1,032 devices seized. In total, 428 charges were laid against 107 people, and there are 175 ongoing investigations where additional charges might be laid.

    The offences included possession, access, import and distribution and the making of child pornography, luring a person under 16, invitation to sexual touching, sexual assault, and sexual interference. 

    We are facing many mixed emotions with this development, and it’s okay if you are, too. While we’re glad that justice is being served, we are devastated for the 100+ children impacted in this investigation. We’re also alarmed by the increasing rates of sextortion and self-exploitation among children and teens.

    Police state that sextortion and self-exploitation among children and teens are increasing.

    This blog post outlines important facts for us all to be aware of:

    Sextortion (sexual extortion) is a serious crime that occurs when someone threatens to distribute private and sensitive material online if the victim doesn’t comply with their demands, usually for money or more sexual images/videos. Sextortion is sexual abuse and blackmail. Youth are most often the targets of this crime.

    What you need to know about sextortion: 

    • Between December 2021 and May 2022 there has been a 150% increase in youth being sextorted
    • Typically, boys are extorted for money, while girls are extorted for more images
    • Contact often occurs on Instagram, then moves to Snapchat
    • 77% of sextortion cases occurred on Instagram or Snapchat

    What are other tactics used by extorters? 

    • Offering youth a prize in the initial contact – win money if they send a sexual image/video
    • Youth being targeted after an older sibling or friend has been contact by the same extorter
    • If initially incompliant, the extorter can become more aggressive (i.e. threatening to ruin a teen’s life)
    • Creating more than one account to make it seem like more than one person is targeting the youth
    • Demanding youth create other accounts on social media for the extorter’s use in victimizing further youth
    • Threats to share sexual images/videos with a school or many schools
    • Creating newspaper articles with false claims about the youth abusing young children
    • Threats to share sexual images/videos with newspapers, news outlets, and television stations

    What should youth do if they are being extorted? 

    Dealing with sextortion is too big for youth to manage on their own. 

    There is help: 

    • Immediately stop all communication. Deactivate (but don’t delete) any of the accounts you are using to communicate with the individual.
    • DO NOT comply with the threat (i.e. pay money, send additional sexual images/videos). The situation will NOT get better through compliance. If the youth has paid money, check to see if it has been collected, and if not, quickly cancel the payment.
    • Tell an adult you can trust. Contact NeedHelpNow.ca for support or report what has happened to Cybertip.ca or police in your jurisdiction.
    • Adults: If you become aware of a child or teen that is being extorted, do not yell or shame them. Remember that this child or teen is a victim of a crime, and is in no way responsible for their victimization. This is a crime in which perpetrators are skilled and manipulative. Be sensitive and offer to help find support (follow the steps that are outlined here).
    • Keep the correspondence. Keep information such as the person’s username(s), social media account information, a copy of the communication, along with any images and/or videos that were sent.

    A note to children and teens

    If you are, or have been a victim of child extortion, please know that you are not in trouble; you did nothing wrong. You were likely lied to, threatened and manipulated. This is not your fault. 

    The impacts of child/teen exploitation:

    Survivors of child exploitation can face many long-term impacts, psychologically and behaviourally. Sometimes, the effects of child exploitation may only present themselves, or be acknowledged years later, which is why it is crucial to bring awareness to the signs and effects of child exploitation. The sooner you reach out for support, the better.

    *List not exhaustive*

    Psychological impacts:

    • Anxiety
    • Depression
    • PTSD/ComplexPTSD
    • Substance misuse
    • Eating disorders
    • Dissatisfaction with body and/or appearance
    • Sleep disturbances and nightmares
    • Self-harm
    • Dissociative symptoms  
    • Low self-esteem
    • Attachment problems
    • Intimacy issues

    Behavioural impacts:

    • Isolation from loved ones
    • Difficulty developing and maintaining relationships
    • Avoiding certain people, places and things
    • Withdrawal from usual activities

    “These offenders are choosing to sexually abuse or exploit a child, some of the most vulnerable victims within our society that we must ensure are protected. The sad reality is that they are living in our community. As parents and caregivers, we have to ensure we are talking to our kids and remaining vigilant to ensure children are not victimized in the first place. To ignore a child being abused, makes you complicit. But we can change that. If you see something – report it.”

    ~ Niagara Regional Police Service Staff Sergeant Brett Atamanyk, Special Victims Unit

    Please find some helpful resources below and also know that the team at New Moon Psychotherapy is here to support you.

    Resources for Youth: 

    Don’t get Sextorted, Send a Naked Mole Rat


    Kids in the Know: Healthy Relationships

    Resources for Parents & Educators: 

    Download the Cybertip.ca FREE Sextortion Lesson