Sally Baker on Sextortion: Building resilience protects our children

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The UKs National Criminal Agency recently issued an unprecedented warning to schools and parents about the growing threat to our children and young people that is targeting young boys in particular. Sextortion is a serious form of sexual exploitation that threatens to disclose intimate images of targeted children to extort money or sexual favours. This malicious practice is controlled by gangs of adults masquerading as a friend to the children to groom them to share intimate pictures or video clips of themselves. These exchanges quickly change to threats to share the material publicly on all the leading platforms with people the child knows. This blackmail can lead to severe emotional distress, shame, and, in extreme cases, an increased risk of suicide among vulnerable youths. Understanding the gravity of this issue is crucial for schools, parents, carers, and all stakeholders involved in child welfare.

The time is now

Some teachers and parents have been reluctant to address this potential threat, believing they may need to mention this later when a child is post-puberty or even wait until they are teenagers. However, I have worked with severely emotionally harmed children as young as eleven years, targeted by extortion gangs, lying, grooming and duping them. The rule of thumb needs to be if your child is accessing and using tech, be it gaming consoles linked to the internet or smartphones, then the time is now to equip them with the information they need to protect themselves.

Victims of a crime

To effectively address sextortion, it is imperative to comprehend the multifaceted and sophisticated nature of the problem. Sextortionists use a tried and trusted business modelthey have honed to exploit vulnerable youths. Playing the numbers game, they use numerous fake identities via VPNs (Virtual Private Network) to hide their location; they target untold thousands of children worldwide. The extortionists aim to exploit the naivety and trust of young people, coercing them into a cycle of blackmail for their financial gain as well as making demands for increasingly exploitative intimate material that draws a young person deeper into a cycle of shame, guilt, and, most damaging of all, fear and isolation. The targeted children are often minors. They fear the repercussions of what they have done and dread that the intimate material they shared will be forwarded to their school friends and families. The young peoples situation can feel overwhelming and can lead to profound emotional turmoil and trauma, which, without proper support, including therapeutic intervention, can escalate to suicidal ideation.

Open conversations build awareness

Raising awareness is a vital step in combating sextortion. Education systems must initiate frank, age-appropriate conversations about the perils of sharing personal content online. Students should be made aware of the manipulative strategies employed by offenders and the critical importance of seeking assistance. Fostering an environment where young people are informed and vigilant can significantly reduce the likelihood of them falling prey to such schemes. This is a clear example of ignorance not keeping our children safe, but knowledge can forearm them and help protect them. Also, ideally, the lines of communication for this potential online threat are more accessible to navigate before any crisis. Our young people need to be reassured that whatever the situation, they can speak with a trusted adult, parent or teacher and share their concerns without being judged or shamed.

Let’s get smart about tech

Digital literacy plays a crucial role in safeguarding our youth. Schools need to stay abreast of the changing nature of online threats and provide comprehensive education on how young people can be safe online, emphasising the importance of privacy settings and informed use of social media. Understanding the forever nature of digital footprints is essential, as once intimate content is shared, it can become impossible to retract. This is equally true on platforms where posts are time-limited, as once images are screen-grabbed, they too can exist forever. Students must be taught to navigate the digital world responsibly, recognising the potential long-term consequences of what they post online.

Resilience in our children helps keep them safe

Building resilience is another key aspect of this multifaceted approach. It involves equipping young people with robust coping strategies and a strong sense of self-worth. Open lines of communication with trusted adults are essential, as they provide a haven for students to express their concerns and seek guidance before a serious problem arises. A supportive network can significantly mitigate the feelings of helplessness and shame that often accompany sextortion.

Addressing the mental health implications of sextortion is equally important. Access to mental health resources and therapy services must be readily available to those affected. These services should be inclusive, approachable, and tailored to meet the needs of young victims, offering a non-judgmental space for healing and recovery.

Finally, collaboration with law enforcement is crucial. Schools and caregivers must establish clear protocols for reporting sextortion incidents, ensuring that students and their families are aware of their rights and the support available to them. It needs to be recognised that these children targeted for sextortion have been a target of crime. Working with authorities can help bring perpetrators to justice and prevent further victimisation.

Sextortion is a complex issue that demands a comprehensive and empathetic response. By understanding the problem, raising awareness, promoting digital literacy, building resilience, addressing mental health, and collaborating with law enforcement, we can create a safer environment for our youth and reduce the risk of exploitative practices leading to tragic outcomes. Educators, parents, and the community are responsible for protecting and empowering our young people in the face of such threats.

By Sally Baker

Sally Baker began her therapeutic training in physical therapies, working with women survivors of sexual abuse and domestic violence. She trained in EFT and became an advanced level practitioner, followed by a Clinical Hypnotherapy certification and training in English modality, Percussive Suggestion Technique (PSTEC). She was awarded PSTEC Master Practitioner status in 2014. She is the co-author, with Liz Hogon, of Seven Simple Steps to Stop Emotional Eating and How to Feel Differently About Food.

Her words often feature in publications such as GQ, The Independent and The Telegraph and her webstie is www.workingonthebody.com.

Based on extensive research and case studies from Sally Baker’s therapy practice, THE GETTING OF RESILIENCE FROM THE INSIDE OUT (£17.99) will be published by Hammersmith Books on 9th May.

 

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