Lenny - 18yrs
Last week the AFP released a statement about the sharp rise in cases of online sexual exploitation of children. The victims, predominantly boys, are unwittingly lured into conversations with 'girls' they meet through games or other social media platforms. They engage in a few sexual discussions, and the boy thinks they've found a girl to do some sexting with. Soon they're asked to exchange nudes, and the rest is history. The 'girl,' more than likely a man in some random part of the world, will send nudes often gathered from the extortion of previous victims. Suppose the boy reciprocates, sending images and even videos. In that case, the tide will quickly turn, and these young boys will be blackmailed for sometimes unpayable sums of money, threatened with the release of their explicit images to family and friends with the worry that the content forever pollutes the internet. First, the AFP is raising this issue because its incidence quadrupled between mid-2021 and this year. That means it has been highlighted as a successful scam, so all the scammers have flocked to it. A lot of the footage that the original 7 News report used was stock footage of children seemingly aged 5-10 happily scrolling away on their iPods, but in reality, it's adolescent boys aged from 12-14 that seems to be the most affected category, and that makes sense. That's a stressful situation, and I can imagine exactly the feeling a young boy might feel struck with at that moment. Fear, shame, lust, and confusion all wrapped into a slowly sinking weight in the bottom of his stomach. It's an intractable scenario where you can either allow a stranger to have complete control over photos you hoped nobody else would ever see, or you can find the solution that comes with the cost of revealing what you get up to online in your room and admitting that you were essentially catfished in a very serious way. The solution isn't always that obvious to the young boy either, who in some cases may be told by the perpetrator that they'll be in trouble with the police if they speak up to law enforcement. This is a dilemma nobody wants, but maybe it's also one that children and parents alike are unprepared for. Scammers don't care who they target; kids are the ideal target, especially young teen boys who can be particularly impulsive. It's genetic, so the fault does not lie with them, even if it seems like an obvious thing to be fooled by.
Essentially, the lessons learned by a generation of internet users now need to be re-learned by those who are just being exposed to it for the first time. The problem is that we still haven't communicated to these young people how the internet works and its true nature. Perhaps they're under the impression that it's just a digital manifestation of the real world, that everybody is who they say they are and that they are protected because adults often speak of online protections for young people. The truth is that as long as kids are left to their own devices, they will be infinitely better at evading their parents' protections than their parents are at setting them. There are endless avenues to get yourself in trouble online, and kids are spending incredible amounts of time on the internet as it is. Of course, they're going to get into some admittedly crazy and unfortunate situations because they're kids, they lack prudence and foresight, and their parents lack the knowledge even to protect their kids because most parents don't know what to do look for. Turning on parental controls helps, but it is by no means a panacea. The best prophylactic is going to be an honest and unabashed conversation about what kids do with their phones. Finding that sort of honesty from kids with phones feels like an impossible task, though; if you've ever tried to get a kid to reveal what they do online, I can imagine it's even more difficult as a parent. Kids often seem to feel as though the interests of their parents are at inherent odds with their interests regarding online privacy and security. In reality, everybody's goals should be the same; safety, clarity, enjoyment, and peace of mind.
Most parents' first avenue of recourse is strictly monitoring devices and exerting extreme influence over their kid's phone usage. Parents, I'm sorry, but you cannot have unrestricted hegemony and insight into your kids' devices. As soon as you decide to get them a phone, tablet, laptop, or whatever it is, the information on it is theirs, and there should be no expectation of them to open their phone for you at any time. That model does no good for anybody, breeding only resentment within your kid and perhaps a neurotic paranoia within yourself that will only serve to stress you out more. The thing that will help your kid the most is if you encourage them to stay fully educated and safe while also laying some truths about the nature of the devices they're using. The conversations my mum had with me helped frame how I thought about what I saw online. My phone was never confiscated, nor was it even threatened because you don't allow people to avoid danger and protect themselves by threatening their sovereignty. That's called totalitarianism, and it doesn't work. Mainly, my mum told me that there was a lot of weird stuff and strange people online, some pretending to be who they're not, and some who do mean you harm. There's also the old maxim, 'If it seems too good to be true…' The young teenage boy's dream is easy sex, so they should be forgiven for falling prey to catfishing. Still, they should also be armed with knowledge. The knowledge that sending nudes is not the best online practice. That girls their age are usually aware of that and that receiving unsolicited nudes from a real girl is highly unlikely, despite how excited it makes them. My mum's advice cemented the idea of the internet as a tool and a place very separate from the world of real interaction. People are not themselves (for the most part); you are not anonymous despite how anonymous you feel, and what you do and say here can easily have real-world consequences. There's no need to fearmonger, but no kid ever hears this enough. Please do not try and educate using fear - they won't listen to you.
How would I have avoided this scam at a young age?
I couldn't have if I didn't get guidance from my parents, who were rational and structured with their approach to educating me. It might be 10-15% of the kid's attitude that influences their susceptibility to a grift like this, but in reality, all the essential factors rely on how parents educate their kids.
The internet is an extension of life now. The prevailing way that kids, who are granted access to devices younger and younger, now live their adolescent lives. 'Raised by the internet' is now a real phenomenon, but just because kids live on the internet does not mean they know everything about it. We can keep advising about each particular scam as the AFP has with this one. If someone contacting you tries to transition the conversation from one site to another, if they claim that their microphone and camera don't work, they can't facetime you, etc. We can provide this specific advice, which is helpful now, but it doesn't help prevent new scams in the future. We need to teach fundamental and universal internet literacy and guiding principles to help young people navigate the internet intelligently. Adults are afraid of conversations like this, worried that it will expose their kids too early, but the earlier you can have that conversation, the better. At worst, it may be embarrassing for you or your child, but at best, it saves you and your child from potential trauma and distress when they aren't falling prey to scams that violate them in such a fundamental way. If you are in Australia and your child is under 18 and has become a victim of sextortion, you can report directly to the Australian Centre for Countering Child Exploitation www.accce.gov.au
If you are outside of Australia contact your local police immediately.
I'm eighteen, and from Byron Bay. I joined the Safe On Social Youth Advisory because I am deeply committed to learning about topics that interest me and spreading that knowledge to as many people as possible. By telling stories that often go untold, especially from the perspective of a young man, I hope to bring a diversity of voice that is incredibly important, especially in the online space. These new technologies affect us all, and whether you like it or not, young people are at the forefront of these changes and the challenges they present. Who better to learn from than the people who use the technology the most?"