Amanda Todd’s harasser convicted: How kids can stay safe from online predators

Story by CBC Kids News • 2022-08-08 14:12

'Sextortion' on the rise but there is help, expert says


⭐️HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW⭐️


After 10 long years, a man from the Netherlands accused of leading a teen girl to end her life has been convicted.

On Aug. 6, Aydin Coban was convicted by a B.C. Supreme Court of extortion, two counts of possession of child pornography, child luring and criminal harassment against Amanda Todd.

A date for Coban's sentencing hearing — the procedure that decides his punishment — will be set on Thursday.

Coban spent years harassing Todd, a girl from Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, beginning when she was just 12 years old.

He started by circulating nude photos of Amanda online without her consent.

Amanda died by suicide in 2012, at age 15, after more than three years of online harassment and bullying by peers and strangers.

Instances of kids being blackmailed with nude images is on the rise, according to Cybertip.ca, an organization operated by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.

CBC Kids News talked to an expert to find out what kids need to know to protect themselves against online sexual harassment.

Keep reading for those tips.

What happened to Amanda Todd?

Before her suicide on Sept. 7, 2012, Amanda posted a nine-minute video to YouTube, where she used flashcards to share how she’d been harassed.

Following her death, the video was discovered on her personal channel and went viral. It was soon covered by news organizations all around the world.

To this date, it has almost 15 million views.

Carol Todd, the mother of Amanda Todd, holds a photograph of her late daughter signed by U.S. singer Demi Lovato. (Image credit: Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

In the video, Amanda explained how she would use video chat in Grade 7 to talk to strangers online.

One stranger persistently asked her to send nude photos of herself.

He eventually persuaded Amanda to expose her chest during a video chat, where he took screengrabs without her consent.

He then used those photos to blackmail Amanda by threatening to send them to her friends and family.

Blackmail involves demanding something of someone in return for not revealing damaging or sensitive information about them.

A victim of sextortion

In this case, the stranger, who was later discovered by police to be Coban, threatened to send those photos to her friends unless she sent more.

This is a version of blackmail called sexual extortion or “sextortion.”

According to Cybertip.ca, sextortion is “when someone online threatens to send a sexual image or video of you to other people if you don’t pay the person or provide more sexual content.”

In this infographic, Cybertip.ca highlights recent research that they say shows a rise in sextortion amongst youth. (Image credit: Cybertip.ca)

In 2010, the police informed Amanda that nude photos of her were circulating online.

Then her classmates discovered them.

Amanda began experiencing harassment and cyberbullying, and had to switch schools multiple times.

During the trial, Amanda’s mom, Carol Todd, wore this pendant that included the initials of her and Amanda’s names. (Image credit: Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press).

In her video, Amanda said she was relentlessly bullied, and sank into a deep depression.

On Oct. 10, 2012, after three years of trying to escape the abuse, Amanda died by suicide.

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How the suspect was caught

In 2013, Facebook launched an investigation of a person suspected of online harrassment.

Coban was arrested in 2014 by Dutch police.

They searched his computers and hard drives and found files associated with Amanda and many other child victims.

In 2017, a Dutch court sentenced Coban to 10 years and eight months in prison on charges for the abuse of 34 young girls and five men.

Coban was originally going to face criminal charges related to Amanda’s case in 2018, but the pandemic and other factors delayed his trial in Canada until this past June.

After spending seven weeks on trial at British Columbia’s Supreme Court, he was convicted, despite pleading not guilty to all charges.

After the verdict, Amanda’s mom, Carol Todd, appeared overjoyed.

"If I could say a message to Amanda, it would be that we always believed you," her mom said.

Following her death, Amanda’s mom started the “Light Up Purple” campaign. Every year on Oct. 10, which is also World Mental Health Day, landmarks and public buildings across the world are illuminated in Amanda's favourite colour. Pictured here is Investors Group Field, a stadium in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 2015. (Image credit: Winnipeg Blue Bombers)

How to stay safe from sextortion

CBC Kids News spoke to Stephen Sauer, director of Cybertip.ca, about the risks of sharing nude images online.

“Once you send a sexual image, you really have no control over that any longer, no matter who’s on the other end,” said Sauer.

Even sharing nudes with a boyfriend, girlfriend or partner is a risk.

“It’s not uncommon for us to see images shared within consensual relationships among youth that are now [posted] online,” he added.

If you fear that someone may be trying to sextort you, Sauer recommends watching for four red flags:

  1. If adults are giving you attention online. Adults should never be trying to be friends with kids in an online environment.
  2. If someone is immediately making the conversation sexual.
  3. If someone sends a nude image first. If they do, you don’t need to send one back. You should never feel pressured to send a nude image.
  4. If someone you don’t know communicates with you on a social media platform like Instagram, and then tries to take the conversation somewhere private, like WhatsApp. Be on guard if they also ask for your personal phone number.

People in Surrey, B.C., attend a vigil for Amanda Todd on Oct. 19, 2012. More than 40 cities around the world held vigils the same day in honour of Amanda. (Image credit: Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

How to keep yourself safer

If someone is threatening to leak nude images of you unless you send more pictures — or money — don’t do it, Sauer said. It’s a trap.

Instead, he recommends taking the following three steps:

  1. Immediately stop communicating with the person.
  2. Deactivate, but don’t delete, your online account. It may need to be presented as evidence in an investigation.
  3. Reach out for help, either to a trusted adult or the police. You can also visit needhelpnow.ca or cybertip.ca for more information.

It's not your fault. There is help

Sauer said that, in many cases, Cybertip will reach out to Instagram or other networks in real time to get a harasser’s account disabled. They will also contact the police.

Cybertip staff are also there to help youth and their family through the crisis.

Most importantly, Sauer said to remember that if you’re being sextorted, it’s not your fault.

“You might think you’re going to be blamed for this because you shared the image. We want you to know that this isn’t true. We want to help you,” he said.

Sextortion using fakes

Even if you’ve never shared a nude, you can still be the victim of sextortion.

Last year, the RCMP warned of a new sextortion tactic that uses fake or doctored videos.

Sauer said that the scam “involves a suspect placing an image of a young person's face over a video or photo, so it appears that the youth is nude or engaging in sexual acts.”

The suspect then threatens to send the images to the victim's family and friends if they don't send money or gift cards.

If you find yourself in this scenario, you should stop communicating with the person and follow the three steps above.

Being cyberbullied? Check out this video for help

Have more questions? Want to tell us how we're doing? Use the “send us feedback” link below. ⬇️⬇️⬇️


TOP IMAGE CREDIT: Courtesy of TELUS Originals
With files from Eva Uguen-Csenge/CBC, Jason Proctor/CBC, 
Vanmala Surbramaniam and Julia Whalen/CBC

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