Friday, December 8, 2023

Police warn of increase in online sexual exploitation

Lethbridge police are warning the public of an increase in reports of online sexual exploitation. Sextortion is a form of blackmail where a person threatens to send a sexual image or video of a victim to others if they don’t pay the person or provide more sexual content, according to the Lethbridge Police Service.

To date, police say there have been 43 files reported to LPS — more than double the amount from the same time last year. Over 20 per cent of the victims were under 18, with the youngest being 13, according to police. Males made up 91 per cent of victims in locally reported cases.

“Youth are particularly vulnerable due to increased time spent online and the popularity of live-streaming services during the COVID-19 pandemic,” reads a news release from LPS. “Youth may also be embarrassed and hesitant to seek adult assistance, and will often comply with threats to try and manage the situation on their own.

Police say 21 per cent of victims sent more images or videos, while 14 per cent sent money to the extortionist. 

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Seven per cent of the sextortion files were domestic related — police say many cases where the culprit demands money are from international organized crime networks, which can make local investigations challenging.

None of the reported files this year have led to charges.

Victims of sextortion are asked to contact Lethbridge Police or their closest law enforcement agency.

“As youth may be more comfortable disclosing to teachers or school counsellors, the LPS Youth Engagement Unit has had discussions with local school divisions about sextortion and encourage them to contact police if a victim comes forward and provides their consent.”

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