The Sextortion Conversation to Have with Your Kids

The Sextortion Conversation to Have with Your Kids

Written by Andrea Crum

June 18, 2024

The sextortion conversation to have with your kids is an important one.

Over the last several months, I’ve read a few news articles about kids who were sextorted. It broke my heart, especially because one teen committed suicide because of it. He’s not the only one.

It made me think of my own sons and how one bad decision could leave them feeling so hopeless, fearful, and alone. I knew I had to talk to my oldest about it, especially since as a soon-to-be ninth grader, he’s about to get a phone.

If you’re unfamiliar with the “sextortion” term, it means that someone has nudes or compromising video of the child and is extorting (harassing/forcing) the child to do something under the pressure that if the child doesn’t, the sextorter will post the nudes or compromising videos to social media and send it to the child’s family and friends.

The sextorter uses the pressure of exposure to manipulate and bully the child into doing whatever the sextorter asks. Sometimes even threatening violence.

They could be asking for money or they could be asking for more nudes with specific sexual poses or acts, and compromising sexual videos of the child. The FBI has warned of “huge increases” in the number of children and teens being victims of sextortion crimes, according to ABC News.

The child feels trapped, scared, humiliated, and ashamed. They are unaware of how to get out of this situation and don’t want their parents or friends to find out what they’ve done so they give in to the sextorter’s request.

The sextorter isn’t just using scare tactics either, as they do release the nudes if their demands are not met, and, often, still do even if their demands are met. “This increasing threat has resulted in alarming number of deaths by suicide,” according to the FBI.

Just to be clear, sextortion happens to adults, too.

Sextorters get the initial nudes/video by pretending they have the nudes already or by striking up casual conversation pretending to be a teen interested in the individual that continues to escalate into sexual conversations and interactions. More recent sextortion efforts appear to include video, as well.

Officer Gomez of Facebook says, “Nearly every teen boy with a smartphone will be contacted by a pretty girl (scammer) who appears to show interest in him. Many boys will fall for this scam sooner or later and send nude photos to the girl. Your son will now be sextorted for money from a professional criminal organization.”

That’s what happened to Walker. A pretty girl messaged him through Instagram. They started casually chatting about school, interests, sports, and eventually she asked him if he wanted to “fool around.” To do this, she asked Walker to open a live chat that acts like a FaceTime and they had a sexual encounter which included him doing a sexual act. Unbeknownst to Walker someone filmed the live chat with a secondary recording device and now the sextorters had video of him doing this sexual act. The sextorters then told Walker they would send the video to his friends and family if he didn’t give them $1,000. They even showed video of them starting to send out the compromising video when he refused to pay because he didn’t have the money and wouldn’t steal his parent’s credit card like they urged him to do. They increasingly applied intense pressure by giving him a short timeframe to respond before sending the video out. That night Walker shot himself.

It’s not just happening to boys, either.

One girl, Taylor, who was sextorted starting at 15 years-old said the man sextorting her told her he had nudes of her. She had just sent some to her boyfriend and she thought the boyfriend may have shared them. Confused and concerned that this man may share her pics, she gave into his requests to send increasingly compromising nudes to him over the course of two years.

She finally told her guardians and they got police involved. Walker, on the other hand, never had a chance to get help from anyone.

The FBI says sextortion starts on any site, app, messaging platform, or game where people meet and communicate.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

Here are some things you can do and conversations you can have to help your kids.

No Social Media

I hear many reasons for kids having social media like the parents believe their kids need to learn how to live in this tech-savvy world, or they need to learn how to navigate social situations on phones while they’re still under the parent’s roof, or they need to learn how to protect their hearts and minds and have self-control, or they will be ostracized if they don’t have it.

The reality is that there is so much secrecy shrouded in social media based on how it was created that our kids will learn how to circumvent us before they even think about asking us how to navigate their social situations. Especially on social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok that all have vanishing message and private messaging features, and serve up content that is not appropriate for children in their feeds, news, and explore tabs.

Our first and most reliable form of protecting our kids against seeing nudes, sending nudes, or sextortion efforts, is to not permit social media to begin with.

They can get around all our efforts through text messages, friend’s phones/social media, or searching the internet for social media apps, but we don’t have to be the ones to make it available to them.

At the moment, I’m of the “my kids aren’t getting social media until their 18 mindset.” That may change, but that’s where I stand today.

Teach about Healthy & Unhealthy Relationships

Taylor, the girl who was sextorted, said, “’I was always told ‘don’t talk to strangers,’ but really for my generation, who really is a stranger to us? Because now we have this online platform where we can connect with anybody in the world.”

When I read this quote, I realized a truth that I had never really noticed before. Our kid’s world is so digital that sometimes even friendships are formed online through a friend of a friend that gets added to a group chat or someone they’re gaming with. This idea of “stranger” is not as cut and dry as it was for us.

So, in addition to telling our kids not to talk to strangers, we can give them tips about what healthy and unhealthy relationships online look like.

Healthy Relationships*: safe, comfortable, not being asked to do something you’re not comfortable with, and with people you know IRL (in real life).

Unhealthy Relationships*: can be someone you know or don’t know who…

  • Sends a lot of messages and often on different platforms or tries to get you on to new messaging platforms that are not as well known
  • Tells you to keep conversations a secret or tries to get you to keep a secret
  • Asks you for personal information (age, where you live, go to school, etc)
  • Threatens you if you don’t do what they ask – like send private (or sexual) images of yourself
  • Tries to create an emotional connection with you
  • Asks you to do something uncomfortable
  • Never shows their face or they will send you pictures that are not really them
  • Tries to get you to have sexual conversations, send naked videos or pictures, or meet up in person.

*Tips on healthy and unhealthy relationships came from the kidshealthhub.ca, but I would NOT recommend this site from an ideology perspective; however, they did have good information on healthy relationships.

Sextortion & Sexting: The More Our Kids Know the Better Prepared They’ll Be

Make sure your kids know the differences between sexting and sextortion and why both are harmful.

For sextortion, have your kids listen to the story of Walker on nextTalk’s Podcast, the sixteen-year-old boy who committed suicide within 10 hours of being sextorted. My oldest son and I just listened to this together and talked about it. It’s very sobering to hear this story of a really good family with a really good kid, who made one bad decision and now the fallout has been immense. Heartbreaking!

For sexting, this is when kids send nude or sexually explicit images or videos of themselves to someone else. The law states that sexting between or regarding anyone under 18 is considered possessing and distributing child pornography. Anyone owning a device or access to these images can be charged. If those images are shared, it’s considered distribution of child pornography.

Kids are definitely sexting each other especially as many parents allow their kids texting capabilities before social media access. You would be surprised how many kids are taking pics of their privates and sending it to others – even male friends sending to male friends.

Talking to your kids about the dangers of sextortion and sexting can save them from humiliation, being desensitized to nudity and sex, and even potentially criminal charges (on the sexting piece).

Talking to Our Kid’s about God’s Grace & Our Own:

When I first read a news article about Walker, I immediately thought, “I need to talk to my oldest about this.”

He loves the Lord, works to live a life that honors God, and to be an example to others. I knew that if he ever happened to slip up and make a mistake like this, it would devastate him because of the humiliation and how it would look to others.

Brian, Walker’s father, talks about this in the podcast. That these “good kids” are often very susceptible to these sextortion tactics because their reputation matters to them.

I wanted my son to know the signs of sextortion and that if anything happened, Matt and I are always there for him and will walk through it with him.

Now, I don’t believe this will happen to our son and I pray it never does. But I also don’t want to be a naïve parent who doesn’t recognize that kids make bad decisions. It’s important that our kids are prepared and aware of the traps out there and that they know we will be here with them to pick up the pieces and love them through it if it does.

They also need to be taught the truth of God’s word, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35-39

As we teach our kid’s God’s truth, we can never forget that part of His truth is His love and grace. It’s essential to the Gospel and our kids need to know it’s real in our homes, too.

God loves us and His grace is for us. He can restore even the most horrible and humiliating events of our lives and make good out of them.

For example, the now twenty-five-year-old, Taylor, participates in trainings for school resource officers to help them spot sextortion and support students who are victims.

Brian Montgomery, Walker’s dad, now shares his story in hopes of helping other teens not fall for the traps these scammers lay out for our kids and has even talked to Senate on measures to protect our kids online.

You’re reading this blog post for a reason. Talk to your kids, make them aware, and protect them as best you can.

Some Resources to Watch and Share with Your Kids:

Officer Gomez (police officer) video on Sextortion

Listen to Walker’s story here

Read Taylor’s story here

How to Get Help

If your child or someone you know has been exploited, then they are a victim of a crime and it should be reported. Contact your local FBI field office, or call 1-800-CALL-FBI, or report it online at tips.fbi.gov

More info on Sextortion from the FBI can be found here

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ABOUT ANDREA CRUM:
Andrea Crum, a biblical worldview, apologetics, and family discipleship leader, equips families with biblical truth for navigating today’s cultural chaos. As the author of Christ over Culture: Raising Christian Kids to Stand in a Postmodern World and a graduate of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Andrea provides parents with the insights and strategic tools they need to prepare their children to stand up, stand out, and stand apart as a Christ follower in a confused culture. A wife and mother of two, she beautifully combines her passion for the Word of God and the family by leading Genuine Family Ministries with her husband, Matt, and hosting the Raising Christian Kids Conference. Follow her on Instagram for parent equipping and family discipleship at @andreacrum7 and @genuinefamilyministries.

ABOUT GENUINE FAMILY MINISTRIES:
As the parents of two boys, Matt and Andrea Crum know firsthand the struggles parents experience navigating the cultural challenges being thrown our kids way. Equipping them with Biblical truth, teaching them God’s design, and guiding them through the treacherous identity and other culture conversations that are more and more prevalent these days can be overwhelming and exhausting. That’s why they founded Genuine Family Ministries. Through focused teachings and tools on the Biblical worldview, the anti-Biblical postmodern ideas that exist today, and how to discern between the two, Genuine Family Ministries is preparing the next generation of faith-filled believers to stand firm on their faith no matter what the culture throws their way.

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