As schools stay remote, parents need to know about online grooming and sextortion

NYC Mayor de Blasio announced last week that middle and high school students will remain remote, and that it is unlikely they will return to school this calendar year.

Though important to slow the spread of Covid-19, when schools go remote children and teens lose access to support systems and mandated reporters able to spot and address signs of abuse. Instead, the students become trapped in homes where family members (a parent, uncle, or even a sibling) harm them.

And the threat does not always come from inside the house: it’s essential for parents to know that even though their child may be a few feet away – perhaps even in their line of view – sexual predators have unprecedented access to them through their devices.

Many parents struggled with controlling screen time before the pandemic, but teens and children are now spending more time online than ever before. They are learning, socializing, and communicating, almost exclusively through the internet. And predators know it.

We’ve seen an increase in tech-facilitated grooming and sextortion of teens and pre-teens during this pandemic.

It’s both adults posing as teens to gain their trust, and peers (sometimes acting on the command of an adult predator, other times of their own accord) coercing victims in to providing intimate images and using those images to humiliate or extort them later on.  And it happens across all social strata.  Some of the most vicious peer-to-peer online harassment cases we’ve seen involve the New York City private school elite, including one matter being federally prosecuted where the male offender, a private school athlete, posed online as an attractive girl and waged yearslong campaigns blackmailing and extorting specific individuals making them send nude pictures and videos.

Whether you’re dealing with teens sextorting each other – coercing classmates to send naked pics then passing them on – or an unknown adult predator, “the best advice we have for parents is to let your kid know early and often that you are there unconditionally to help him or her,” says Carrie Goldberg.

It is our experience that abusers rely on isolating their victim and alienating them from their family. The kid feels a huge amount of shame,and imagines that the best/only course of action is to hope it goes away (it usually doesn’t). There are many reasons kids are afraid to come forward. Sometimes they feel they themselves have broken the law and will be busted for having created and sent the materials. Other times, they are afraid to tell their parents because they don’t want to be an additional burden to overstressed parents.  Offenders often say they will retaliate if the victim goes to the cops and will take it out on the victim’s parents or younger siblings, or even parents’ co-workers.

Our first priority when dealing with kids and teens who have been groomed or sextorted, is stabilizing them. In almost all cases, a kid who has been through this will be suicidal, sometimes completely shut-down, and often reluctant to discuss what happened.

It’s our job to assure you and your kid that you do have options and you can take back control over the situation. Sometimes this involves negotiating a school transfer. Sometimes it involves de-anonymizing an offender. In one recent case, we immediately mobilized a national network of experts to:

  • Supervise the psychological stability of the child involved
  • Open a federal investigation
  • Launch a legal case against the platform where the abuse occurred
  • Support the family in dealing with the emotional burden

 

In upcoming blogs, we’ll be discussing how to spot signs of abuse, grooming, or sextortion in your child, and more essential info for dealing with life in lockdown with a kid.

As always, we remain open and ready to support you and your family. Contact us here to arrange a free consultation to discuss what’s going on.

 

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