Teenager speaks out about online sextortion
Published Friday, February 19, 2016 12:29PM CST Last Updated Friday, February 19, 2016 12:32PM CST
Two years of torture all started with a Facebook message. Now, a 16-year-old girl, who cannot be identified, is sharing her experience with online sextortion.
"Once you take that picture, you can never get it back. It's out there," she told CTV News.
She said an innocent instant messaging conversation with another teenager quickly turned into sexual threats.
“I said ‘No’ to him probably like, who knows, 50, 100 times, and I told him to ‘F off’ and stuff like that. But he got worse and worse, and he said, ‘You know what? If you don't do this, I'm going to come and find you.’"
Scared of the unknown, she gave in to his demands and sent a picture of her exposed breasts.
"Unfortunately, it had my face in it, and of course, it was a mirror selfie in my friend’s bathroom."
Over the next few days, she said two other boys joined in. She describes the harassment as unbearable.
"He's like, ‘If you're not back in 10 minutes, we're going to send your photos out to someone else.’"
In total, she took and shared nine photos.
Noticing behaviour changes, her mother said she finally got the truth out of her daughter four days after the first picture was sent.
"She was just crying and crying, and she said, ‘Mom, I took pictures,’” said the victim’s mother, who also cannot be identified. “And then, she said they were naked ones. That's when my husband said, ‘Take her to the police, now.’"
But before police could get their hands on the photos, they had already been shared throughout the teen’s school.
"One of my friend’s cousins came up to me and he was like, ‘Oh, you have nice boobs,’ and whatnot. And I was like, ‘What do you mean?’ And he showed me and I was just like, ‘Holy crow.’ I went to the bathroom and threw up, because I couldn't take it anymore," said the 16-year-old.
Cases like this are not isolated. The Canadian Centre for Child Protection says advancements in technology have only made it easier for online sextortion to happen and for photos to be distributed without consent.
Cybertip.ca has documented a significant rise in reports of child sex exploitation across Canada. In 2011, they received close to 8,500 tips. But in 2015, it increased to just under 38,000.
Many of the tips are from members of the public who are concerned with images they see online.
Winnipeg psychologist Dr. Toby Rutner said parents concerned their teen may be going through something like this should look for classic signs of depression.
"They withdraw, they become secretive, they have difficulty sleeping, they get very defensive," said Rutner.
He added the symptoms could evolve into the teen not caring for their personal hygiene.
Rutner is of the opinion, when it comes to the Internet, that parents should be more concerned with safety than their child's right to privacy.
He suggests using online monitoring as a negotiating point when a child asks for a cell phone.
Tell your teen you will be checking their contacts and conversations periodically, or have a parental-control monitoring app installed on the device, he said.
"Say, ‘Yes, I am invading your privacy in the same way I would be invading your privacy if I bought you a car and I'd want to know where are you going in the car. When are you going to be back, are you driving it safely?’"
Rutner suggests that as kids show good judgement, parents can re-negotiate.
The family who went through this says they still feel and see the effects of what happened.
"Her room is now upstairs across from ours. I get up in the middle of the night to make sure she's OK," said the victim’s mother.
The teen said she is slowly regaining her self-esteem, and doesn't want to be known as ‘the girl who took photos’ anymore.
"People call us victims, but I say survivors, because we're turning something that was a living hell for how many days, how many months, how many years, into something positive."