Children as young as seven are targeted online for sexual coercion and extortion

by Nick Fitzgerald
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The European Union police agency Europol has launched a new campaign against online sexual coercion and extortion of children in support of which the Garda Síochána today launches a “Say No” campaign. The online coercion and extortion of children is a form of digital blackmail, sometimes referred to as ‘sextortion’, where sexual information or images are used to extort sexual material, sexual favours or money from children.

Europol states that there has been overwhelming growth in these types of cases, the majority going unnoticed as victims are too embarrassed to talk, or are too young to be aware of what’s happening.

Europol reveals that victims as young as seven are being targeted online.

When targeting a minor, offenders have two main motivations:

  • A sexual interest in children, where the objective of the extortive exchange is the procurement of sexual material (photos and/or videos depicting the child) or a sexual encounter offline;
  • An economic interest, where the objective is to gain financially from the extortion.

A “Say No” campaign was launched by Europol today aimed at children and young people who may be targeted online as victims of sexual coercion and extortion.

The centrepiece of the campaign is a 10-minute video, portraying two teenagers, a boy and girl, being exploited online either by a criminal organisation for money or by an individual online sexual offender seeking further sexual material. The video, includes advice as to how such crimes may be reported to An Garda Síochána.

The Online Child Exploitation Unit (OCEU) at the Garda National Protective Services Bureau (GNPSB) offers the following advice:

• Protect your online life – use the maximum privacy settings.

• Be aware that people online may not be who they claim to be.

• Keep control online – do not share explicit or intimate images with anyone.

If you believe you are a victim of this type of crime, you should do the following:
1. Don’t share more, don’t pay anything.
2. Look for help. You are not alone.
3. Preserve evidence. Don’t delete anything.
4. Stop the communication. Block the person.
5. Report it to An Garda Siochana.

This activity is a crime. Adults as well as children can be victims.

Assistant Commissioner John O’Driscoll, who heads Special Crime Operations (SCO), within the Garda Síochána, today said:

“The Garda Síochána is today launching a “Say No” campaign which represents its participation in a new campaign against online sexual coercion and extortion of children that is led by Europol.”

“The ‘Say No’ campaign is aimed at providing advice to those persons who are victims or who in the future may become victims of crimes of this nature.”

“Posting or uploading explicit images on social media, or passing such imagery to others online, is extremely dangerous and can have devastating and lifelong consequences for children and their families.”

“Parents and children should be aware of the dangers involved and the Garda Síochána advise that explicit images should never be posted or shared online.  Any child who receives a request for naked or explicit photographs should not share any images. We ask them to tell their parents and immediately make contact with the Garda Síochána who will advise them regarding how the matter should be handled.”

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