Every individual in today’s world is somehow surrounded by the electronic devices. With the advent of the digital revolution, each and every information which is needed by human beings is available on the internet.

This has increased the dependency of human beings on the online contents. At the same time this has also generated the scope for the criminals, who are targeting the people through online mode. One such online crime is the online sexual abuse of children.

The law enforcement agencies all around the world are observing a huge increase in the cases of online sexual abuse of children.

The South Alberta Internet Child Exploitation team (ICE) is one of the dedicated police units investigating these types of crimes.

The data collected from ‘Statistics Canada’ reveals that between 2017 and 2021, the police-reported cyber crimes include about 30,000 violations of online child luring, and creating child pornography.

ICE Detective Justin Brookes said that they have got complaints file of 375 pages of different IP addresses, in Alberta engaging in this type of illegal material over the last 30 days. He says, “On any given day, there’s probably hundreds … thousands of targets within our jurisdiction”.

Concerned about the horrors of such crimes the police across the country are issuing warnings to the public about an important threat – the online sexual extortion or sextortion of minors. This threat has grown exponentially during the pandemic and still the graph is moving in upward direction.

According to Stephen Sauer, the director of Canada’s national youth tipline for online sexual crimes, says that there is 150 percent increase in the number of reports, at the first six months of this year.

The report defines sextortion as a form of online blackmail where criminals deceive young people through various digital platforms to obtain explicit images and then threaten and extort them for money or more material.

The report says that although the internet blackmailers target all youth, the largest increase in cases involves teen boys. It state that about 90 per cent of the sextortion victims reported are young males.

Experts explains that the- boys (especially between the ages of 14 and 17) are more likely to start communicating with someone on social media– especially when they think it’s with someone of their own age who is sexually interested in them.

The criminals targeting the young males, are usually from overseas crime groups, and they often trick the boys into believing that they are communicating with a girl and sending sexually explicit images. Then the offender threatens to distribute those images and tries to extort them for money.

According to the authorities, girls are also being targeted, but perpetrators tend to be interested in them sexually, so girls are being blackmailed for more content.

Sauer says that sextortion is one of those things where there’s a lot of victim blaming that occurs and in recent years, a terrifying pattern has emerged among youth that are sexually extorted.

In fact some victims take their own lives, at times within hours of being blackmailed because they lose hope of getting out of this web.

When Cyber Civil Rights Initiative based in the United States approached Asia Easton, to help lawmakers understand the impact on survivors, she turned her focus on online sexual abuse in 2016. Easton is an associate professor of psychology at Florida International University.

Her research showed that the survivors experienced a wide range of symptoms, including headaches, stomach aches, sleeplessness, anxiety and suicidal ideations.

Talking about the victim blaming Easton says that the fault really lies with the person who violates, which is true with any sexual assault.

Jacobs, who investigates sextortion cases for ICE says that one of the challenges in fighting cyber sexual crimes is that the perpetrators could be anywhere in the world.

He explains that when the perpetrator lives in Southern Alberta, his ICE unit is able to go and investigate on-site. He claims that all around the Canada only his team has MERTL– a mobile evidence recovery technology lab that’s vital to catching criminals.

MERTL helps the cops to conduct the previews just right at the place with a search warrant, instead of seizing each and every electronic devices.

MERTL is like a white truck with specialized equipment inside it to try and crack open any electronic device.

The process at MERTL starts after the suspected electronic device is seized and three forensic examiners meticulously comb through them all.

Allen La Fontaine, the lead forensic examiner says that it’s like a trail of breadcrumbs. He takes apart a computer tower seized from the home. The other techs work on a USB drive and the suspect’s cellphone.

But since, most of the times they don’t have the password, so opening the phone is a challenge. There are a number of cases that have been successfully cracked by the ICE, but still a huge number remains unsolved.

It has been concluded by La Fontaine that in an increasingly digital world, online sexual exploitation of children is virtually impossible to control. It’s prolific, and the police won’t be able to stop it alone.

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