SALT LAKE CITY — The U.S. Justice Department has called it “by far the most significantly growing threat to children.”
And based on recent investigations, the issue of “sextortion” isn’t slowing down, including in Utah.
Sextortion is a form of online blackmail, typically targeting teenagers or preteens.
The average sextortion case starts with children who are 12 to 14 years old who are using social media and other apps to message others who they assume are also juveniles, said Steve Cagen, head of U.S. Homeland Security Investigations in Utah and three other states. Eventually, the other “juvenile” will gain the teen’s trust and request a nude photo.
“But they’re talking to a 40-year-old or 50-year-old man, who once they have one photo will then extort them for more. It’s called sextortion. It’s happening a lot. And we are asking parents to talk to your kids, because it can happen in every neighborhood,” he said.
The emotional destruction a child suffers after being guilted into sending photos or videos out of fear of being exposed is gut-wrenching for even the most hardened of investigators.
“It is difficult when we have to look in the faces of children who have been exploited, who will never be the same again,” Cagen said.
Often, the crime leaves child victims with severe depression and thoughts of suicide, according to the Justice Department.
“Sextortion is brutal. This is not a matter of playful consensual sexting,” according to the Brookings Institution, a public policy organization that conducts research it hopes will help lead to solving societal problems. “Sextortion, rather, is a form of sexual exploitation, coercion and violence, often but not always of children. In many cases, the perpetrators seem to take pleasure in their victims’ pleading and protestations that they are scared and underage.
Sextortion in Utah
Earlier this year, the Deseret News examined with local police and school officials the exploding problem of nude selfies being exchanged among Utah’s high school students. The issue has become so prevalent that many teens have accepted it as normal. It’s what our generation does, they say. Law enforcers and school…