COLUMBUS, Ga. — The FBI says “sextortion” is the fastest growing crime against children on the internet. Police and counselors have advice for parents.
They say now is the time to talk with your children about it no matter how uncomfortable it may be.
Only five states, including Alabama, have made sextortion a stand alone crime but it occurs all across the country.
“It does go on and it goes on right here in Columbus,” Columbus Police Special Victims Unit Lt. Joyce Dent-Fitzpatrick said.
Lt. Dent-Fitzpatrick says it all starts when a child sends a pornographic image or video and snowballs from there. Here’s what an online predator may say:
‘”Hey if you don’t continue to do this, I’m going to expose what you’ve shown me to the rest of the world,'” Lt. Dent-Fitzpatrick said.
At that point, the child feels trapped.
“They’re ashamed of what they’ve done and they don’t want to have to explain this to their parents,” she said. “You have to tell your children no matter what they’ve done, that they can come talk to you.”
CPD’s special victim unit goes to schools, PTA meetings and churches to teach parents the dangers of sextortion. From there, it’s up to you.
“You can’t be afraid to start talking to your children about sexual encounters because people groom children,” Lt. Dent-Fitzpatrick said.
There are warning signs when it comes to this crime. You may notice personality changes, especially isolation.
Pastoral Institute CEO and licensed counselor Tom Waynick says it’s important to have conversations with your children early and often and convey this message to your children:
‘”There are people who will take advantage of you or could possibly hurt you and these are things that I want you to do,'” Waynick said.
The FBI says the age of those most affected varies but can impact children younger than 10 years old.
“We have so many parents who just don’t want to talk about this,” Lt. Dent-Fitzpatrick said. When you only have three parents show up at a PTA meeting, who do we reach.”
Her message: Reach your kids, before online predators do.