One case in very recent news took place over Kik, but it could have been any of these apps. A young girl—about 13—posed as someone who was a little older. Maybe she thought she would get more boys interested in conversation if she was older. She began chatting with a young man. He looked about 14. But it turns out the boy in the picture did not at all match the 50 something year old man who was really on the other end of that conversation.
Want to guess how the police finally became involved? After a few months of creating a false relationship, Mr. Creep began asking for photos. Once he gathered enough to blackmail her, get information about her parents and friends and her contacts from her Facebook page, he upped his game. He had her on the hook with shame and guilt and a hard drive full of proof that she sent these photos. This burden became heavier and heavier until, at 13, she felt her only way out was suicide. What would her parents think when they found out? How could she face them? These are the exact questions her abuser would ask her any time she even attempted to deny him what he was asking for. When she refused, he threatened to send the photos to everyone on her Facebook friend list. She felt she had no way out.
What’s the scariest part of this whole strategy? He’s managed to abuse this young girl to the point of attempted suicide all without ever meeting her in person or physically laying a hand on her.
So, is there a fix for this? As protective adults, we meet the parents and get to know our kids’ friends. We go through the paces to make sure our kids are choosing wise friends and not up to something. When our kids ask to have a playdate, we don’t send our 10-year-old into the dark house on the corner—you know the one with the sketchy tenants who always leer at our daughters and give us the heebs—and simply hope for the best. So why are we handing over these dark corners to our children through computer screens and cell phones? We are setting them up to fail—or worse.
I’ll end by posing a couple questions. What harm would come to your child if you chose to ask them about this topic? Because truthfully talking about it is the best way to stop it from happening. And finally, what harm could come to them if you choose not to speak to them? Not to check their phones or forego them altogether? What harm could come if we continue to pretend sextortion isn’t an epidemic rising up among our children?
We have to decide that we—the parents—are going to be the loudest and most loving influence in our children’s lives. If we don’t, someone is just sitting on your kids’ favorite app waiting to pretend that they are.