A new analysis from the Canadian Centre for Child Protection suggests a stark rise in sextortion crimes targeting youth, with the majority of victims being adolescent boys.
The Winnipeg-based agency says it opened 322 cases this July, compared to 85 in July 2021 and just 15 in July 2019.
Of those 322 cases last month, 92 per cent involved boys or young men.
In the past, the centre would see mostly cases of girls and young women being extorted for compromising photos, but that's changed, said Stephen Sauer, director of Cybertip.ca at the CCCP.
"The difference is that for young girls, what we're seeing is often the individuals have the sexual interest in the girls, and so they're looking to gain more imagery, gain videos from them to fuel that sexual interest," he said.
"In this case with the boys, the difference is that these individuals really don't have that sexual interest, but they have the drive to make money."
In many of these cases, the perpetrators are manipulating teen boys to extort them into giving them money, often by posing as a young woman on social media platforms such as Snapchat or Instagram, he said.
"Realizing that youth, especially boys at this age, are vulnerable to manipulation tactics to get them to engage in sexual acts online … biologically, they basically move too quickly comply with these kind of requests," he said.
"There's a lot of shame associated with this, so then they will also comply with paying to hopefully mitigate the distribution of that image or video."
It's something Derek Lints knows all too well. His son, Daniel, a rural Manitoba teenager who was a hard-working athlete and student, took his own life in February after being sexually exploited online.
In an email Thursday, Lints said he would like to see governments step in and impose more regulations on tech companies.
LISTEN | Parents of Daniel Lints, a 17-year-old victim of sexual exploitation, speak to The Current:
Police issue warnings
The rise in these type of crimes has prompted policing agencies around the world to send out urgent warnings about sextortion involving boys and young men.
The Nova Scotia RCMP issued one of these warnings at the end of July after seeing a large number of money-motivated sextortion reports where boys and girls are being targeted.
RCMP used to see mainly sextortion cases involving girls and women, but that's changed recently, said Cpl. Chris Marshall of the RCMP in Nova Scotia.
"I think that's what scammers potentially are seeing, is that this type of scam, not only does it work oftentimes with young girls and young women, but it's also working with young men and with boys," he said.
It's understandable that people would feel uncomfortable coming forward, but they need to realize that they were victims of a crime, and that it needs to be reported as soon as possible, he said.
"You have to realize … somebody is taking advantage of you, and that's not okay," he said.
"It would be simply that if you do fall victim to this, it would be to just cease all contact right away and to contact your local police."
Part of the issue is that social media has never before been so integral in young people's lives, said Darius Blades, a Brampton, Ont., teen who works as a consultant with OneChild.ca, an organization focused on preventing the sexual exploitation of children.
"Personally, I feel a lot of that dependance comes from the fact that, you know, social media was something we were kind of indoctrinated with. We grew up with it," he said.
Some work OneChild.ca does involves destigmatizing the issue so that youth don't feel embarrassed to come forward when they are victimized, he said.
"I think a lot of the issue also comes from the fact that when it happens to you, they're not necessarily comfortable with coming forth," he said.
"They may feel embarrassed almost because, you know, they may think they're alone in the issue and they think they're alone in their experiences and what's happening to them."
Blades says he thinks it's important for parents to have conversations with their kids about this, and not to lecture them.
"I know that I shouldn't be sending these types of photos to strangers online, but regardless of that fact, it still happens," he said.
"Look at your children as people as, you know, actual sentient beings with their own thoughts and opinions on a lot of these situations. Ask them where they've come from regarding these issues."
With files from Karen Pauls and Cameron MacIntosh