Online Sexual Predation and Exploitation

We believe that it is important to once again emphasize that the vast majority of pre-teens and teens are doing super uber cool things online, and we adults need to start acknowledging this fact. Although the internet gives us the power to connect with people around the world, it also allows for private and immediate access to both children and to those who want to prey upon our kids for exploitation.

For the purpose of this chapter, it is important that we define the difference between “sexual exploitation” and “online exploitation”:

Sexual Exploitation

“When anyone under the age of 18, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity, forces or entices a child into engaging in sexual activity in return for something received by the child and/or those perpetrating or facilitating the abuse.”

https://bit.ly/3BHfm2H

Online Exploitation 

“The use of information and communication technology as a means to sexually abuse or sexually exploit children”

https://bit.ly/3tghCuI

Grooming

The Manipulative process sexual predators use to identify, coerce, and silence their victims

https://bit.ly/3L73BrD

When it comes to onlife predation and exploitation, the research shows us that most who will target our kids will be someone who both the child and parent either knows, love, or trust.  Pre-COVID, one of the best studies as to who these online predators were, showed that only around 11% of youth between the ages of 12-16 years of age were approached online by someone they did not know.

At the time of writing this e-book, we are in the clutches of COVID and during this home lockdown phase, law enforcement has seen an anecdotal increase in onlife luring and predation. Here in British Columbia, law enforcement has seen an anecdotal increase of 45% during COVID.  As the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office Child Predator Section stated:

“The same number of predators exist, it’s just that their opportunities and tools have changed.  There are more ways for them to access children, and we have gotten better at catching them. They have easier access to their victims and to children because they are online at a younger and younger age”

In 2020, according to the Canadian Centre For Child Protection, they saw an 80% increase in reports of adults contacting children ages 8-12 years of age wanting to engage in sexual activities via online live streaming.

Once again, we turned to the teens who follow us on social media and asked them the following question:

“Have you received an inappropriate sexual message, solicitation, or offer online from someone you did not know, since school has been shut down because of COVID”

296 teens replied, and 27% (79) stated “yes”, and 73% (217) stated “no”.  Yes, this is anecdotal, but it gives a reasonable snapshot of what teens are actually experiencing online.

According to the “Global Threat Assessment” 2019 report, it is estimated that there are approximately 750,000 people who are looking to connect with children online for sexual purposes at any one time.  This is approximately less than 1% of the world population.

THORN, a private company that builds technology to defend children from sexual abuse and works with law enforcement around the world, identified 6 risks groups of youth, we added a seventh, who are more prone to sexual predation and exploitation:

  1. Teens in ministry/government care or foster care
  2. Teens who have substance dependence
  3. Teens who identify LGBTQ
  4. Youth who are homeless
  5. Youth with an emotional, psychological, or physical disability
  6. Runaways, and
  7. First Nations Youth

These risk groups, given their heightened vulnerability, lack of stability, financial challenges, and desire for affection, are prime targets of commercialized exploiters (pimps) both online and offline.

Eva Veldhuizen-Ochodničanová, in their 2022 article, “Tactics Used In The Online Grooming of Children”, stated that the Internet offers offenders new ways in which to sexually exploit children. This includes but is not limited to:

a) production, possession, and distribution of child sexual abuse material (CSAM);
b) live streaming of child sexual abuse;
c) sexual extortion;
d) harassment of children;
e) sharing of self-generated sexual content involving children; and
f) unwanted exposure of a child to sexual content.

The reason as to “why” online predation will occur can fall into one, or a combination of the following five reasons:

  1. To obtain or share explicit photos/videos of children
  2. To meet a child in person and engage in sexually illegal behaviour
  3. To engage in sexualized conversation and/or online role-playing behaviour
  4. To receive some sort of financial benefit (sextortion)
  5. The Machiavellian enjoyment of psychologically, emotionally, physically, and socially controlling another person including a child

When it comes to those who will prey upon and exploit youth online, there are four groups to be aware of

  1. Pimps – commercial sex traffickers
  2. Peers – Friends and romantic partners
  3. Family – dad, mom, brother, uncle, grandfather
  4. Sexual Predators – known and unknown

 

Predator Typologies

Within these groups there are also three typologies of predators and exploiters:

  1. Sexualized Troll Harassers
    • Usually has very little sexual motivation
    • Very Machiavellian – Cappers & E-Whoring
    • The goal is to upset their target
    • Often motivated for financial gain via sextortion
    • The weaponization of intimate images often falls under this category
    • Very rare that those in this typology will be a pedophile

According to the Australian e-Safety Commissioner Office, about 1/3 of Child Sexual Abuse Images available online worldwide are self-produced.

Presently on the deep web, sometimes called the dark web, there is what is called an “E-Whoring” economy, where people will sell manuals on how to capture people online for the purpose of sextortion. Here are a couple of examples that we found:

“Today, I’m sharing my collection full of paid e-whoring e-books bros. My collection contains; ewhore packs, traffic sites, traffic guides, ewhoring secret methods. All worth almost $400”

“I started doing the VCW ewhoring method, bit when I go into chatrooms, how do I know that people are interested in paying for a camshow? Should I just straightforward ask it or not? Asking like a girl is no problem for me, but figuring out if they eventually will pay is hard. Also the VCW I’m using looks real as fuck. When they ask for what I look like, should I like, should I keep my fake cam open the whole time for close it after I do command. Do these men figure our it’s fake or not?”

“If you are asking how cappers do it, I can tell you that they use multiple videos of the same girl broken into sections. Sometimes the boy will ask the girl to wave.  The capper always has a video ready to insert in that doesn’t look too obvious of a cut.  Most of the time the capper has to chat with the boy and him comfortable before he shows.  I once spent almost 1 hour with a boy. 15 minutes was warming him up and 30 minutes was him jacking as he took a long time to cum. I had to loop my bait several times but he never noticed.”

We will look at the topic of sextortion in chapter 21.

  1. Online Pedophiles
  • According to clinical sexologist Dr. Marlene Wasserman, an expert on pedophilia, she estimates that 1-3% of the general population would fall under this category.
  • Here the offender will have sexual compulsions and fantasies for, or a primary sexual attraction to, adolescent boys or girls

Within this typology of offender there are three subcategories:

  • Collectors – these offenders do not want to have a face-to-face encounter with their target. The goal is to obtain child sexual abuse material.
  • Travelers –  also know as “Contact Driven Predators” – these offenders will travel vast distances for a face-to-face encounter that will lead to sexual exploitation.
  • Manufacturers – these offenders will collect, exchange, and sell child sexual abuse material. According to the National Center For Missing and Exploited Children, there are approximately 47 million known Child Sexual Abuse Images in circulation globally.
  • Chatters – also known as “Fantasy Driven Predators” – these offenders want cybersex only.
  1. Sexualized Child Abusers and Exploiters
  • Not motivated by pedophilia
  • Extremely exploitive due to a target’s vulnerability
  • Extremely opportunistic and situational in their predation
  • Often target based upon impulse, curiosity, anger, and a desire for power
  • This is often where the parent, teacher, coach, priest, and others fall into
  • This is also where the commercialized exploiter like pimps fall into

According to a 2020 report from the US-based Human Trafficking Institute https://bit.ly/3gnPHDa

  • Teens under the age of 18yrs made up 55% of sex trafficking cases to law enforcement
  • Of this 55%, 12% were 13yrs or younger, and 89% we between the ages of 14yrs to 17yrs
  • 41% of teens who were recruited were recruited online
  • Most commercialized exploiters were not operating as an organized crime enterprise, but rather as an individualized exploiter

Note: it has been our investigational experience, which has been confirmed by teens that we have spoken to,  that the individualized commercial exploiters (pimps) have moved to virtual platforms, such as OnlyFans, where they have rebranded themselves as “influencers” whose “clients” will have to pay a significant “referral fee”

The Grooming Process

These online predators and exploiters are good at what they do. Many are very computer savvy, often have a successful career, and are often male with an average age of 25 years.

Once a target has been identified, these offenders will groom, commonly known as manipulation, catfishing, e-whoring, or capping with the intent to move from what seems to be good intentions to sexual exploitation. They will feign attention, and affection, provide incentives and send gifts like iTunes cards or game cheat codes in an attempt to normalize their contact with the youth.

Given these offenders know that parents talk about “stranger danger”, their goal is to make their target feel comfortable with them so that they are no longer seen to be a stranger.  As a result, these offenders will often play the waiting game and dedicate long periods of time in order to build rapport and trust. This is just one reason why teaching “Stranger Danger” doesn’t work, and why we need to start teaching “Situational Danger”

Parent Tip:

The Internet and social media have changed the traditional “binary” meaning of the word friend. To say a “follower” or “subscriber” is not the same thing as a friend, is often factually incorrect in today’s onlife world; doing so will only result in your child ignoring your message of online safety as “Boomer” logic.  Sometimes an online follower can be a friend, and sometimes not. However, sometimes a friend can also be an online frienemy.  Identifying anyone online, either known or unknown, who has bad intentions, based upon a label (friend, follower, subscriber) can often be a significant challenge for youth (and even adults), in today’s onlife world. Once again, this is why parents need to move away from stranger danger, and start teaching situational danger which is much more desirable to keep our kids safer in the onlife world. It is much easier for youth to understand dangerous situations, rather than a “stranger profile”, whatever that means in today’s onlife world.

A relationship will often be established on a social network, online gaming platform, or app that is popular with youth.  Prior to connecting with their target, these offenders will unknowingly “creep” their prey to learn their likes and dislikes. The offender will then modify their online profile and screen name that matches closely to their target’s interest, which again helps to build psychological rapport.

Once contact has been made with their target, the offender will shower them with likes, follows, and compliments, again in an attempt to break down the stranger stigma to further build rapport. Other strategies used to gain a child’s trust include:

  • Praising the child for their maturity and intelligence
  • Flattery
  • Offering gifts, money, toys, and treats
  • Offering to take the child on trips
  • Offering support, love, stability, and protection
  • Listening to and validating feelings by mirroring the child’s emotions and language
  • Showing interest in hobbies, goals, likes, and dislikes that mirror those of their target
  • syncing their language with that of the child
  • Will promise drugs, alcohol, or adult entertainment
  • Sharing secrets and making the child feel important

At some point, the offender will often ask their target to move away from a public discussion, to a more private discussion via email, text messaging, or direct messaging, something known as “off-platforming”. The goal, cut the prey from the herd to decrease the likelihood of getting caught. It is also at this point that the offender will encourage their target to not tell anyone because they just wouldn’t understand.

Once rapport and trust have been built, the offender will often pay for their targets travel to meet them, offer quick cash, offer modeling opportunities, will not take “no” for an answer, and will continue to push their target’s boundaries. Pimps will offer the lure of making easy money, offer gifts, and even invite their targets to “all-age” and “hotel parties” that they themselves pay for as a part of the grooming process. As Heidi Olson, a well-known sexual assault nurse and expert on this topic stated about pimps:

“How do these children fall victim so easily? Some pimps are reported to have seemed caring and genuine at first.  These traffickers are not thugs, they have a strategic business model.  Pimps start by making promises and fulfilling them. They promise their victims food and shelter, take them to the movies, and buy them a cell phone, and get them tattoos. Pimps provide an identity for vulnerable kids.  As the pimp earns trust, the pimp begins to break the kids in for sexual services.”

If the goal is sexually inappropriate conduct over the internet, the offender will break down the barriers of their selected target slowly, they do not want to shock and awe.  They will often introduce sexual content; sexually explicit comments, questions about sexual development and flattery, into the conversations to test the waters.

Once their target has taken the bait, they will now start to send inappropriate pictures and videos in an attempt to desensitize their target based upon an incremental process.

Once hooked, and an intimate text, pictures, or video has been obtained by the offender, they will often reveal their true identity and resort to extortion if their target is withdrawing from further interactions such as threatening to send their target’s texts, pictures, or video that they now possess to parents, friends, and teachers if they don’t send more pictures or money.

Is the Grooming Process Illegal

In Canada, as well as many other countries around the world, it is illegal to solicit anyone under the age of 18 for sexual purposes. This includes luring and grooming over the internet, sending child pornography, and inviting sexual contact.

How To Minimize The Risks

  • No matter how well-educated, youth are still vulnerable.
  • Pre-teens and younger teens should have no unsupervised access to the Internet.
  • Do not allow any use of tech in the bedroom or bathroom. Remember the offender wants privacy with your child.
  • Be your child’s best parent and not their best friend – stop abdicating your responsibility about talking about this issue to others
  • Get involved with what your kids are doing online and trust your gut instinct. If you feel something is wrong with your child dig deeper.
  • The information in this chapter needs to be compounded over time and remember that “stranger danger” does not work.
  • Is your child ready for a digital device like a cellphone, make sure you pick the right one. (see Chapter 13)
  • Remember, most social networks require users to be 13 years of age.
  • Look for life changes that may indicate human trafficking such as multiple cellphones, changes in clothing and property without the financial means to do so, significant changes in friends, a new older boyfriend, references to bitcoin, PayPal, Venmo, WePay that are used for cash transactions, being picked up and dropped off by people you do not know, skipping school or a sudden drop in grades, disappears often from family events, changes in lingo “boyfriend” = “daddy” or “Friends” = “wives”, “sisters” or “stable”.
  • Where reasonable and appropriate to do so, consider using monitoring software and hardware. (see Chapter 14)
  • Ensure privacy settings are in place for each and every app and social network.
  • Learn and teach your child how to report inappropriate behavior.
  • Make sure they are using appropriate screen names that don’t identify gender or age. Remember pedophiles are very age and gender-specific.
  • Before allowing your child to download a new app, have them complete the “Due Diligence Report”.
  • Implement our “Family Collective Agreement”.
  • Download our free “White Hatter App”.

Hashtags: Parents could Be Unknowingly Chumming The Waters

One often overlooked prevention strategy, the role that sometimes parents unknowingly play when they post too much information online about their child, something that is more commonly known as “Sharenting”. According to Author Stacey Steinburg:

“Sharenting is often a positive way to connect and support one another during parenthood to improve our lives, child’s lives, and the lives of others in our community”

However, parental overuse of technology and social media can sometimes unknowingly share content about a child that can attract the attention of an online predator or sex offender. Unfortunately, sometimes today’s onlife parent has become the genesis of creating a “tagged” generation of youth, that is becoming very searchable by those who may have ill intent at their core.

One technique that predators and sex offenders will use to identify a potential target, the search of hashtags (#).  What is a hashtag, it’s a way to index a post or picture on a social network, like Facebook or Instagram, that makes a posting or picture very searchable and discoverable to anyone!  So, if you are hashtagging a picture of your child with their name, they now become very searchable by that name.

However, names are not the only challenge that parents need to be aware of, there are other hashtags that also draw the attention of child sex offenders.  Some of these hashtags include: #bathtime #pottytraining #nakedbaby #babypeeing #nakedtoddler to name just a few. Don’t believe us, Google the above noted hashtags and click on image results.

So, before you hashtag the next cute picture of your toddler or child with their name or what you believe to be a cute hashtag, ask yourself, “do I want to make this picture of my child both searchable and viewable by the world, especially by those who may want to prey upon them?” Think before you hashtag and post.

Knowledge, and the understanding and application of that knowledge, is power!

  My Child Has Been Targeted Now What

Sometimes all the prevention and education strategies implemented will not be enough, and your child could still victim.  So, your child has been targeted successfully what should you do now:

  • As hard as it may be do not overreact. Your child needs your support and not your criticism. Fear of judgment or unreasonable consequences is one of the main reasons why youth don’t come forward to let parents know that they need help. We like the “Talk” approach that is promoted by RAINN https://www.rainn.org/TALK
  • Screen capture everything as evidence.
  • We encourage families to next call the police. If you don’t want to connect with the police directly, you can also report the incident to https://cybertip.ca/en/report/ This site is operated by the Canadian Center For Child Protection (3CP), a not-for-profit group that works with law enforcement across Canada.  If a picture or video was shared, 3CP uses a web crawler known as “Project Arachnid” that will scour the Internet looking for the picture/video, if it was posted, and then work on getting it taken down.
  • After contacting the police, and with their permission, block and delete the offender. There will be some cases where the police may want to conduct an undercover account takeover as a part of their investigation.
  • Once the offender has been blocked and deleted, they will attempt to reconnect using a different profile, email, or text to keep the pressure on to comply.
  • Set up Google Alerts https://www.google.ca/alerts to monitor your real name and any screen name that you used when interacting with the offender.

Here’s a great FREE Canadian 30-minute online course called, “Mobilizing Communities to Disrupt Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking in Canada” https://notinmycity.ca/learn/. The content of this course is excellent, very informative, and easily understood. This is a course that every Canadian (both adults and youth) should take. To fight this growing crime, awareness and education are key, and this program does just that!

How To Report The Crime

Canada:

United States:

Great Interview with Mia Golden on the topic of youth online sexual exploitation

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