When Cindy George got the call that her 21-year-old son Jake Darren Curtis was dead, it didn’t fit into her worldview. “I ran screaming from my school,” the teacher, who received the call at work, told Megyn Kelly on TODAY. “They had to stop me…I was hysterical.”
Photo: Jake Darren Curtis
Jake was a fun-loving, happy guy, about to graduate from college. He was going to be a teacher like his mom. His dad, Darren Curtis, had had dinner with him the night before. He told TODAY that Jake was completely normal, and that they had a great time.
So how could it be true, Cindy George tried to understand, when the police officer told her that Jake had taken his own life with a family shotgun? He was SO HAPPY.
She wouldn’t find out the answer until four months later. Though Jake left a suicide note that said he had gone through hell the last five days (this part makes me weep – he chose SUCH a permanent solution to such a temporary problem!!), he didn’t tell his mom what that hell was. After an investigation, it was revealed months later that Jake had been a victim of sextortion, and was so filled with shame over it that he took his own life.
Jake’s suicide letter to his mom/screenshot TODAY Megyn Kelly
Sextortion is the name given to the crime of blackmail when it involves sexual information – typically nude or compromising photos. In Jake’s case, what he thought was an innocent flirtation with a girl he met on Kik messenger (his parents told Megyn Kelly that he was a “late bloomer” and at 21, had only recently had his first kiss) turned out to be anything but. Sexually inexperienced and probably flattered to be asked for a nude photo, Jake sent one at the girl’s request.
Only it wasn’t a girl, and the sextortion blackmail began immediately. The person on the other end of the message threatened to send Jake’s photo to his family, friends, and employer if he didn’t pay up. So Jake did pay up, but promised to delete the photo were retracted and more money was demanded. Jake made three payments in all, and then told the blackmailer he had no more to give.
Seeing NO way out, and too ashamed to ask his parents for help (that part also makes me just CRY), Curtis wrote his mom a note and killed himself with a family shotgun. Just 21 years old, a life full of promise was ended.
The police who investigated the suicide eventually did find that Curtis’ blackmailer was in the Philippines, but that they faced a lack of cooperation from that country that did not enable them to bring the blackmailer to any kind of justice. A spokesperson from the Millard County Sheriff’s office in Utah told TODAY, “We felt like we’d hit a dead end, and for the suicide that we’d proved everything that we needed to prove. That it was a suicide, he took his own life, as sad a story as that is. He was being blackmailed.”
Jake Curtis’ parents are telling their son’s story in the hopes that other parents won’t have to walk through their own pain, so that other young people won’t experience what Jake did. With that message freshly imprinted on my mind, let me offer you a few tips to equip your kids:
How to equip your kids to avoid sextortion
1. Have the sex talk early.
The best sex education starts early. Teaching your kids about what sex is and what healthy sex is NOT is much easier when you start when they are young with age-appropriate resources. This will include teaching them that naked pictures in general are not good. Plant that seed long before they are old enough to have the means of taking one of themselves and sending it. Here are a couple great resources for you. Both of these books are for very young children – start EARLY! I know we wish we didn’t HAVE to teach our young kids what porn is, but GUESS WHAT? We do. And we WILL, if we care about them. The books I recommend are:
How God Makes Babies by Jim Burns
Good Pictures, Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids by Kristen A. Jenson
2. Don’t give access to social media and smart phones too young
Jake Curtis was 21, an intelligent young adult, and he still made an impulsive decision on social media that had devastating consequences. Do you really want to put that power in the hands of your13-year-old? If you’ve read much of what I write, you will know that denying your kids social media and smartphones until they are young adults is one of the best ways you can protect them.
3. Help your kids understand that what they text, message, or post online or on social media can never be erased.
If your kids are old enough, sit down and read this article with them. Tell them Jake was a normal kid just like them. Yes, my 14 year-old son squirms when I show him articles like this, (maybe that’s because I sing a little “Awkward talks with mom” theme song before I dive in, LOL) – but these talks always make an impression, and half the time he even says “thank you” to me for telling him.
4. Make sure your kids know they can ALWAYS turn to you for help, NO MATTER WHAT
When I was 15 or 16, my mother, who volunteered at a crisis pregnancy center and saw lots of young girls in tough situations, told me that if I ever ended up a pregnant, unmarried teen or young adult that I should come to her for help and it would be ok. Now, I have to admit, I was shocked she even brought that up, and yes, it was awkward, because I was 100% expected to adhere to the Biblical doctrine of saving sex for marriage. Yet my mother loved me enough to let me know that if I didn’t, and I faced that huge consequence, that it would BE OKAY. You see, she knew that there were worse things than a pregnant teenage daughter. Make sure your kids know that there is NOTHING they could ever do that would make you love them any less. In this day and age, you should SPECIFICALLY talk about online blackmail and sextortion and sexting and the life-long consequences they can have. And while they need to know that YES these things WILL HAVE consequences, but that if and when it comes to that, you will face them TOGETHER.
Additionally, check out this video from THORN, a non-profit whose aim is to stop sextortion. It is awesome to share with your kids as well.
And finally, I encourage you to take the time to watch Megyn Kelly’s interview with Jake’s parents. You could be them. Your child could be Jake. None of us is immune. Allow THEIR story to change YOURS.