The Darkest Corners of the Cyber World: Sexual Predation and Exploitation

The Darkest Corners of the Cyber World:
Sexual Predation and Exploitation

Sexual predation and exploitation is the topic of this article, more specifically it’s about catfish who use social media and social apps to seduce and trick young men and women into sending naked photos and sexually themed videos, and then turn around and post that sexual content of the unsuspecting victim online for others to see, sometimes including the victim’s name, physical location, and links to their social media profiles.

Another form of sexual predation is “sextortion.” This kind of abuse involves mostly threats of public humiliation if the victim does not comply with the demands of the predator.

According to a study by the Brookings Institution (the only known study of its kind) involving 78 prosecuted cases and over 1,397 known victims, minors under the age of 18 make up 71% of victims. The average age of child victims is 15.

They also found that 91% of these cases involved social media manipulation through which threats, coercion, and exploitation occurred. In 17% of cases the predator demanded in-person sexual contact. The details in these cases are horrific. The things these predators forced their teen victims to do on camera would haunt the most stoic of us.

When it comes to adult victims of sextortion, the majority of victims are female and 43% of victims have their computers hacked. This includes email accounts, social media accounts, computer hard drives, cloud drives, and webcams.

Sexual exploitation online has become a trend in the last few years, it has become almost like a sport to sexually exploit unwitting victims, to see just how many victims they can take advantage of.

In one of the case studies I read while writing this article, a sexual predator catfished as a young girl and had tricked a 14 year old boy into sending him explicit photos and videos.

Afterwards the sexual predator informed the teenager that he had been tricked, and then threatened to send the boy’s explicit content to the teen’s classmates, friends, and family, if the teen did not continue sending new explicit content.

The details in the case go on to mention text and email exchanges between the predator and teen, where in the boy continuously begs the man to stop and delete his photos and videos, but the predator replies with threats and demands.

Out of fear, the boy continued to take explicit photos of himself, recorded video clips of sexual acts, and performed degrading and obscene sex acts live in front of his webcam, based on the demands of the predator.

Eventually the boy told someone at school what was happening, and the school contacted his parents. The teen had been too embarrassed to tell his parents the horrific events that had been unfolding, right inside their own home.

The predator was caught by tracing his IP address, he was charged with sexual extortion, sexual exploitation of a minor, and the possession and distribution of child pornography.

The kind of sexual predation or exploitation that I will be covering for the most part in this article is not sextortion, but rather what’s called “straight baiting,” by which heterosexual boys, teens, and young adult males are tricked into voluntarily sending sexual content to people catfishing as someone else.

At first you might think such a thing is rare or that you yourself would never fall into such a trap. Or maybe you have already become a victim of this scheme? Or perhaps you think such things only happen to idiots?

The horrifying reality is, in fact, that there’s a high chance one of you reading this right now have been a victim of this crime and don’t even know it. The truth is that it happens every single day to countless young men and women in the United States, United Kingdom, and around the world.

It mostly happens to those between the ages of 18 and 30, but as you have already learned from the Brookings Institution’s study, the victims of sexual exploitation can be anyone with a phone and a social app installed on it. If you’re a parent, I highly recommend you read and take note of what I have to say.

For the past year I have spent time doing independent investigation on how this type of exploitation takes place, where the photos end up, who the catfish are, why they’re doing it, who the victims are, and what the aftermath entails. My research spanned from July 31, 2016 to today (May 12, 2017). In this time span and since, I have personally communicated with more than two-dozen victims.

Most of us know what an online catfish is. If you don’t, it’s someone online who’s pretending to be someone they’re not by using another person’s photos on a fake online account or profile in order to get something from someone else. What they want could just be attention, but it might also be money, sexual content, power, or vengeance.

Catfish, in the sense that I’m using it here, can also be called other names. When it comes to the specific situation that I’m referring to (tricking others into sending nudes) the act is known most commonly as “baiting.” It’s also been called fishing or hooking. For this reason, the perpetrators are called baiters or fishermen.

These perpetrators are actually sexual predators in every sense of the words. They prey on young men and women to exploit them for sexual purposes, this act is a form of sexual predation or sexual exploitation.

So who exactly are these sexual predators? They can be anyone who wants the victim’s photos or videos, money, sexual admiration, submission, etc.

For example, if the victim is a young man, then the predator can be a woman, but is almost always another man who is attracted to him, but doesn’t believe himself attractive enough, or the right age or gender, to receive the young man’s attention, so he catfishes online as a girl or more attractive guy and begins contacting the young victim online through social media sites or social apps like Snapchat.

Over a period of time, a period that can be hours or even weeks or months if he’s good at it, the predator will either build the victim’s trust or play on his sexuality, attempting to seduce him and encourage him to send naked photos and sexual videos of himself.

These predators are very good at what they do, playing on people’s weaknesses such as recently breaking up, their loneliness, if they know the victim to be in a negative relationship, is a social outcast, or someone who likes attention. They will often learn about their victim before approaching them online.

Once she or he has the young man’s photos/videos in possession, many things can happen. She or he may keep them for herself or himself, or may post them online to share with others. Sometimes this sharing is done freely, sometimes the predators will charge a fee to view or download the sexual content on sites such as Tumblr, any number of public porn sites, from a cloud drive such as Google Drive or Dropbox, or a private website specifically hosted by the predator.

Most often in the cases I’ve encountered, the predator is a gay man trying to get nude photos of a young straight guy because he finds the guy attractive but knows he will never be with the guy, or because he hates the guy and wants to trick him into sending nudes to embarrass him by posting them publicly online, or has the intention of blackmailing the guy for money.

In all scenarios he will conceal (catfish) himself online and bait young attractive straight men, pretending to be a pretty young girl.

How do they successfully pose as girls? They are shockingly sophisticated and determined. They first have to acquire photo sets and videos of pretty girls. They can do this a number of ways.

One way is through female friends willingly sending them sexual content to aid in the baiting of the straight guy because the female friend thinks it’s funny, but most often, the predator on his own collects nude photo sets and videos of pretty girls from online searches through Google or from sites such as Tumblr, where other guys have already posted photos from girls they’ve seduced or baited.

Usually this sexual content includes both photos and videos of the same girl. There are various types of apps used in the exchange of these photos and videos. These apps include Snapchat, Kik, Instagram, Facebook Messenger, among others.

Some of these apps have new systems set in place to prevent the user from sending any kind of content other than “live” content or at least will differentiate between archived media and live media. “Live” in this instance means the photo was just directly captured or the video was just recorded by the app right before it was sent from one user to another.

These predators, however, have found ways around that issue and successfully send archived/saved photos and videos as “live” content.

How you might wonder? Many of the older versions of these apps are still available for download online. Older versions that do not require content to be taken or recorded as they are sent. In other words, the predator can send a photo they have saved on their phone to the victim as though they had just taken the photo with their phone’s camera, and the young man who receives it is none the wiser.

If the predator can’t find an older version of the app online, there are other options. Such as created apps. That’s right, there are apps available for download who’s sole purpose is to trick people through other common social apps.

An example is an app called “Fake Camera”. This app allows Kik predators to send photos from their phone gallery to a recipient who receives it as a photo that says it was just taken from the predator’s camera.

The victim in this case then believes the person he’s talking to really is that pretty young girl in the photo. He genuinely thinks she just took a selfie, but actually the girl is a 50 year old gay man eagerly awaiting the young man’s nudes.

The same process can be done with videos on apps capable of supporting live chats and video sharing. All the predator needs to do is be smart enough to figure out how to trick the young guy into thinking the video feed is live or that it was just recorded specifically for him.

The next question you might ask is why would they do this to these teens and young adults? Whether the predator is young or old, age is essentially irrelevant. I’ve seen both young and old alike, preying on young men.

As I’ve already mentioned, their reasons can be as varied as their targets. The most common reason I’ve observed is for the sole purpose of seeing the young guy naked. On less common occasions it is to embarrass the young guy by exposing him online, or as an act of revenge against him, or simply to earn money.

Money can be a strong motivating factor. The predator may contact the victim afterwards and inform him that he’s been tricked and that the predator now has a collection of nude photos/videos of the victim committing sexual acts. The predator will then tell the victim to send more or he will be exposed online or the victims friends, classmates, or family will anonymously receive the photos/videos. The predator may make other demands in accordance with his desires.

If he chooses not to tell the victim, he may try to sell the victim’s photos and videos online. Depending on how desirable the victim appears to others, predators can earn anywhere between $5 – $100 per photo, photo collections, or videos of the victim engaged in sexual acts.

No longer do sexual predators have to take photos of their victims, today victims willingly and unknowingly take the photos of the themselves and send them right to the predator, completely unaware they’ve been sexually exploited.

In the beginning I said that most victims are 18 – 30, however I have seen comment threads where users are requesting photos and videos of people younger than that, proclaiming they will pay for “quality” photos and videos of targets under the age of 16.

If you’re a parent, then you already know there are bad people out in the world and that your children have more to worry about than burning their hand on the stove. In a time when our lives are so connected to social media and social apps at a very young age, it’s more important than ever that you watch over your kids with intense vigilance. The closer your child gets to and into adolescents, the more concerned you need to become.

When your young teenager is sitting on the couch messaging someone you may very well assume it’s a friend from school, but it could be a sexual predator slowly sinking his or her hooks into your teen through Facebook, Snapchat, Kik, Instagram, or some other app, trying to get them to send nude photos by any means necessary and then telling your teen to delete all traces of the photos or conversation so your teen doesn’t get discovered by you.

So what if you suspect your teen has been baited? First, you need to have the kind of relationship with your son or daughter that they will tell you what has happened, provided they even know.

Those that are aware they’ve been tricked are ashamed of the photos and videos, filled with guilt that it happened, disappointed in themselves for being fooled, and often times too embarrassed to tell a parent. So you must have an open and trusting relationship, where by you won’t immediately be angry with them. Remember they are the victim!

If your son or daughter is under the age of 18, then you need to contact local law enforcement immediately. The sexual exploitation of a minor is a felony charge. Do not block the user who received the nude photos, do not delete the app, until officers can retrieve any data points that can be used in tracing down the predator. They need the information when they contact the social application for things such as the user’s personal information and ISP address.

If you believe or know your teen’s photos have been posted online publicly or have been shared privately online, but they are not a minor, then you need to contact the website administrator to report the abuse and have the photos taken down off the site.

A predator can be taken to court for sharing someone’s nude photos without the consent of that person, if evidence can be presented. This is possible because when you take photos of yourself, these photos are your property. Applications like Kik or Snapchat, have the legal right to receive and send your photos because by creating an account and accepting the terms of use, you give them that right. Other users, however, are only given the right to receive them.

From what I’ve learned, most baiters will honor a victim’s request to take down the photos without any serious threats of legal action. Often times it’s best to both contact the user who posted them and the site administrator to have them deleted. This way, the user knows he or she has been discovered by the victim.

If your teen has been harassed or coerced into sending sexual content with threats of public exposure, further charges can be added to the case such as extortion.

If you have been a victim of sexual exploitation, then there’s a few things you need to do after requesting your photos be taken down off a private website or public social media site.

The reason for this is that the person who posted them online may not be the person you originally sent them to and therefore not the original person spreading them online. In fact, in most cases the content has already been shared with hundreds to thousands of people online.

The website owner may have bought them from the baiter. But buying them doesn’t give him or her a right to post them of course, as stolen property still belongs to the creator of the content (you).

If you sent the photos through a social app like Snapchat, make sure you have that person blocked on Snapchat or whatever app was used. Since your photos and name have been posted out there, I would advise to never respond to messages from accounts you don’t know who want to exchange photos with you. You will now be a target for other baiters who believe you to be an easy target.

In the very beginning I mentioned that not only do these baiters, these sexual predators, post your nude photos, but some will also post your full name, where you live, and even links to your Facebook, Instagram, Kik, or Snapchat profiles.

Why? To give other baiters the opportunity to further exploit you. Their goal is to trick you into sending as much sexual content as possible and the more baiters coming after you, the better the chances.

At this point you may have already concluded that none of this would happen if people stopped sexting. In a way, you’re right, but at the same time such a belief is not congruent with reality. The raging hormones of adolescents and young adulthood, loneliness, social rejection, sexual frustration, all prevent that kind of abstinence from sexual exploration and curiosity, especially when it comes to guys. They are the most common victims of this specific type of sexual exploitation.

So finally you may be wondering what all of this does to a victim. As you might suspect, fear, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideology (some victims did die by suicide), social isolation, hopelessness, loss of appetite, distrust, all of these have been reported by victims or their families.

From the victims I spoke with personally, they expressed fear about the photos still being out there somewhere on the internet. They worried about losing their job over it, or not being able to get a job if it became publicly known that their nude photos were on the internet for all to see.

Young athletes worried they would not get scholarships. Others worried that their girlfriend/wife would separate from them. Those that were single, worried that they wouldn’t get dates because of it.

All of them worried about their friends, classmates, teammates, family, coworkers, and romantic partners finding out about the incident and the possible stigma that could haunt them the rest of their life, as the naked photos and videos could resurface at any time on the internet.

In one of the cases reviewed by the Brookings Institution, the sexual predator had amassed 15,000 webcam videos, 900 audio recordings, 13,000 screenshots, all from 230 victims, 44 of which were minors.

Always be skeptical of random or unknown people who contact you or your child through social media sites and social applications. Not everyone is who they say they are, and in this world not all people are inherently good, some are just looking for their next victim. Don’t let you or your child be that victim.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis, please access my immediate assistance resource page.  A comprehensive listing of online and phone resources and services is also available.

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