There’s been an alarming spike in the number of Australian boys being preyed on by international sex offenders, who have been grooming children to take explicit photos and then extorting them for money.
That’s according to the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE), which has taken the unusual step of releasing police intelligence to warn all parents and carers about the “emerging risk”.
Reports to the ACCCE involving young boys have more than quadrupled between mid-2021 and this year.
ACCCE commander Hilda Sirec said while coercing and blackmailing minors for sexually explicit videos and images was not new, it was previously “very rare” for police to receive reports about offenders demanding money from children.
“Tactics can vary, but child sex offenders commonly pose as girls and befriend boys via social media platforms, image-sharing apps or online games,” she said.
Once the pair connected, the ‘girl’ would request private communication and engage in sexualised conversations before sending explicit images of her fake self, often sourced from a victim of previous offending.
The boy would then be asked to send nude images or videos in return.
Commander Sirec said the predator might also manipulate the boy into engaging in explicit activity on camera which they secretly recorded.
“These predators [then] reveal they have footage of the child in compromising positions and demand money in return for not sharing the vision with family and friends or posting it online,” she said.
“Once that money was paid – either by bank transfer, online game, gift cards or even cryptocurrency – the predator would demand even more money. They are not deterred by the age of the victim, they care only about the profit they can make.”
Commander Sirec urged victims to seek help and said they would not be in trouble for coming forward.
“These crimes have devastating effects on children and their families,” she said.
“These offenders are very manipulative and they will threaten and frighten children to get what they want, including telling victims they will be in trouble with law enforcement if they speak up.
“If your child is or has been a victim, reassure them that it’s not their fault and that there is help available. By reporting what has happened, they may help us catch an offender and prevent other children being harmed.”
Parents and carers have been asked to talk with their children about online safety and how to recognise suspicious behaviour online.
ACT Children and Young People Commissioner Jodie Griffiths-Cook said while adults had the responsibility to keep young people safe, children also needed to be empowered and equipped with the knowledge and tools to also look after themselves.
“Talk with your children about what they are doing online, and get involved,” she advised.
“Play the games that interest them, ask them what they’re up to and who they’re talking with, work with them to review their privacy settings, involve them in deciding the rules for devices and being online.”
She said children were growing up in an era different to their parents, and the lines between online and offline worlds were often blurred in ways that could be “difficult to comprehend”.
“We need to understand what this means for children and young people, and shape the conversations we have with our kids in ways that educate without being judgmental,” Ms Griffiths-Cook said.
“Whether we like it or not, our children will meet strangers online.
“We need to make sure they know how to identify unsafe contact and how to respond.”
She also stressed children and young people needed to know that image-based abuse was never okay and never their fault.
“Whether you are a parent, carer or someone who a child or young person has trusted enough to talk to, don’t be afraid to say that you’re not sure what to do but that you will work with them to find the answers and to help,” Ms Griffiths-Cook said.
“Make sure they know they can come to you, no matter what.”
Both the eSafety Commissioner and AFP’s ThinkUKnow program has resources for young people on how to recognise and respond to this type of crime, including a specific online blackmail and sexual extortion response kit.
Cases of sexual extortion involving children could also be reported to the ACCCE.
If you are a victim of this type of crime:
- Avoid sending any more images;
- Collect evidence such as screenshots of conversations and make a report to police;
- Don’t blame yourself and speak to someone you trust for advice and support;
- Change your passwords for all online accounts and review your privacy and security settings;
- If you think a child is in immediate danger call Triple Zero, Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000, or local police.