‘Sextortion’ Targeting Children on the Rise Amid COVID-19 Pandemic, National Tipline Says

February 10, 2021 Updated: February 10, 2021

A child protection organization warned that “sextortion” targeting children is on the rise as they spend more time online during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Simply put, sextortion is blackmail,” said Cybertip, a Canadian national tipline for reporting online sexual exploitation of children, in a news release on Tuesday. “It’s when someone online threatens to send a sexual image or video of the child/youth to other people if they don’t pay the person or provide more sexual content.”

Operated by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection (CCCP), the tipline said they have seen a 88 percent spike in reports of different forms of online sexual exploitation, one of which is sextortion. 

Cybertip said they receive an average of 40 sextortion reports monthly. In many cases, the perpetrators initiated their contact with children and youth through social media and live stream platforms like Snapchat, Google Hangouts, Facebook Messenger, and Omegle.

Once connected, they systematically lure the minors into a trap.

Sextortion usually starts with normal online conversations and then when chats are moved to more private platforms, quickly turn very personal and sexual,” according to the tipline.

“The person might use things like flattery or attention bombing to make you feel special, or try to make you feel bad or use sympathy in order to manipulate you into doing what they want. They may demand more videos or to transfer them money. Often they will pretend to be a teen girl or boy to build trust and a connection.” 

The agency said the number of reports they received do not necessarily reflect the reality of the problem. Feelings of shame, guilt, and fear prevent victims from telling anyone they’re being blackmailed, or “sextorted,” the organization said.

“We want to remind youth they don’t have to deal with difficult online situations alone,” CCCP Associate Executive Signy Arnason said in the statement. “There is help.” 

She said contacting Cybertip is a good start, as the tipline can help victims regain back control of the situation by removing the images or videos of them that were posted online.

Cybertip offered five steps for victims in this situation.

  • Report immediately of what happened to the tipline or local police
  • Stop all communication with the perpetrator by deactivating—but not deleting—any of the accounts they have been using to communicate with each other
  • Do not comply with the threats, meaning never pay money nor sending additional nudes to the blackmailer. If money has been paid, check if it has been collected and if not, quickly cancel the payment
  • Keep all correspondence especially the username(s), social media account information, copies of communication, along with the image and video being sent to the perpetrators
  • Reach out to an adult they can trust to get through the crisis