Prosecutions of Sextortion have risen by 60 percent over the last five years.
According to the Assistant Section Chief of the FBI’s Criminal Division, Brian Herrick, “Sextortion is when an adult coerces or entices a child to a minor kid under 18 to produce a sexually explicit image of themselves and then transmit that image to them on the internet.” He said to ABC News.
An adult named Mark Barnwell was one such person who was sentenced to 35 years in prison this January due to being caught using false personas on Facebook and setting up female-presenting according to the Department of Justice.
The DOJ revealed that Mark Barnwell, using a female-presenting profile, was telling girls who were minors that he was offering them work in modeling, and that it paid thousands of dollars, but he gave just one catch: The girls had to send photos of themselves in sexual suggestive poses and positions.
“Hey would u be interested in modeling they pay 500-5000 a shoot,” is usually what an initial message would say, the indictment shows.
After receiving the images, Barnwell threatened the girls that he’d post them online if he didn’t receive more, in an attempt to hurt the minor aged victims.
Brian Herrick says such a technique is textbook in Sextortion cases.
“This starts the cycle of victimization that is very hard to break out of because now, it’s not one picture. It’s several pictures, it’s videos,” said Brian Herrick.
The predator will get a sibling involved in some of these cases. According to t he DOJ, Barnwell had 43 victims, which is typical for these kinds of offenders.
“We go to an arrest and we put them in handcuffs, we take his computer, we look at his computer and we don’t find one victim. We don’t find 10 victims. We find 100, 200, 500 victims,” said Brian Herrick.
The FBI said that offenders being male is a common denominator. Herrick said the predators are as young as 18 years old, all the way up into grandfather age. “All walks of life. They’re doctors, they’re lawyers. I hate to say they’re policemen. They are people in positions of trust, they are coaches, they are teachers.”
The FBI also warned that these cases aren’t only limited to social media, but that there are online gaming websites that are targeted by online predators.
“If you have a 14 year old boy who is trying to advance within a game to get to a different level, get a high score and someone comes on the scene pretending to be somebody else, who’s maybe offering cheat codes or offering in app purchases to get more armors so they can advance a game, that’s an enticement,” Brian Herrick said to warn parents.
Herrick works with a team who have partnered with The Violent Crimes International Task Force all over the world in an effort bring the predators to justice and help identify the victims.
Currently there are 56 foreign law enforcement officers from 49 countries in the task force, according to Herrick.
Often times parents of these victims aren’t aware their child was a victim of sextortion.
“An agent has to go out now and knock on the door of those parents and say ‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith we need to talk to you’“, said Herrick.
The FBI has the challenge of assuring that both the victim and parents are not going to be in trouble, but the predator will often try to spin it against the victims. The predators are known to tell their victims that they will be in trouble and then it scares the victim,
Brian Herrick encourages parents to have open and frank talks with their children in a way to curb this problem.
“What we need children to do is to make smart decisions when they have a situation really difficult because again many times those decisions are being made in the living room. They’re being made in the boys or girls bathroom at school or when they have a device that connects them to the entire world,” Herrick stated.
Here is a video by ABC of a staged form of Sextortion meet-ups with an adult and a minor that tests how people react to the situation.
Featured Image Credit: CC / InkMedia.eu
Kyle James Lee – The AEGIS Alliance – This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.