Online youth victimization up 37%, according to Canadian Centre for Child Protection
Biggest issue is kids not telling parents they've been victimized: Noni Classen
With children having spent more time on mobile devices, tablets and computers at home for both academic and non-academic pursuits, there has been a 37 per cent increase in the overall online victimization of youth, according to the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, which operates cybertip.ca.
The agency says predators have become more persistent and aggressive, employing tactics that range from repeated unsolicited sexual images to doxing — publicly identifying or publishing private information, especially as a form of punishment or revenge.
"Contacting kids from multiple accounts, even when the kids try to disconnect and stop contact, threatening kids with doxing them and that would mean revealing all of their personal information making it available online for everybody, humiliating them," said Noni Classen, the director of education at the Canadian Centre for Child Protection in Winnipeg.
As part of Safer Internet Day on Tuesday, Classen is urging parents to become more informed and to understand the risks their children might face online. She thinks it's difficult to attribute the rise to anything specific.
"With everything that's been going on through the pandemic, we have more kids online longer, as well as maybe they don't have the same level of supervision all the time," Classen said. "Kids online are having to deal with the aggressive nature of individuals who are targeting them in a way that we haven't seen before."
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everyday life in a myriad of ways, and that includes children spending more time on technological devices. Predators are "very invested in humiliating you," she added, noting that girls are targeted slightly more often than boys.
Const. Gord Olson has been with the Manitoba RCMP Internet Child Exploitation unit since 2010, and he says there have been more investigations involving younger children.
"That would be maybe kids fooling around with the device and doing some silly things at a younger age," Olson told CBC News. "That seven, eight and nine-year old age where they've recorded themselves naked and then they've pushed that out onto a social media platform like TikTok or YouTube and maybe not really understanding what they're doing."
He said the most-targeted age range predators attempt to lure children at is between 12 and 15 years old.
The ICE unit dealt with 288 investigations in 2019, 345 in 2020 and 370 in 2021. Investigations in January were up about 10 per cent over last January, Olson said, which he called a "pretty significant" increase.
There are an average of about five to 10 reports across Manitoba each week, according to Olson.
Snapchat, TikTok and Instagram are the the most popular social media platforms that children send, make or share a nude image or video and share with somebody, he added.
Olson is a parent himself. His children were teenagers when Snapchat launched, so he asked them about it.
"If I didn't understand the social media platform that they were using ... I had them explain how it worked because I didn't. I didn't understand the draw to it as well. As a parent, ask your child, get them to show you what's on their device.
"It kind of empowers them and then you'll learn something from them. That gives you the opportunity to open those conversations up," he said.
Conversations with your kids are key, but according to Classen, those aren't happening as often as they should. She says nearly half of parents in Canada have not spoken with their kids about sexting or sextortion.
"Parents really aren't aware of the aggressive form and the aggressive nature of the sexual violence that they are encountering in dealing with on their own. I think if they understood that fully there would be more concern of what the kids are trying to deal with online by themselves," she said.
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"Things can go wrong in a nanosecond," Classen said. "We do think that it is a larger problem than people understand and so there is an urgency to these conversations."
Kids generally don't tell their parents they're a victim because they are ashamed, worried they will get in trouble and that they will stress their parents out.
Classen says kids not saying anything is her biggest concern, but it's also why parents need to keep tabs on what their children are looking at online.
"There really is a responsibility and a necessity to be monitoring what they're doing online so that the adults can take the lead," she said.
According to her, five countries, including Canada, are talking about the need to regulate the Internet so there are safety regulations for children.
With files from Jill Coubrough