Ultimate Guide to Sextortion, Online Enticement, Teen Sex Trafficking, & Human Trafficking

Table of Contents

What is Sextortion?

A crime that happens online when an adult convinces a person who is younger than 18 to share sexual pictures or perform sexual acts on a webcam. Sextortion can start on any site where people meet and communicate. - Federal Bureau of Investigation

How does sextortion begin? (Source: FBI)

  • On mobile or online websites, apps, or games
  • Victims may be approached with compliments, flattery, or romantic interests
  • Offers of a modeling contract
  • Offers of video game credits, codes
  • Offers money, cryptocurrency, or gift cards
  • Threats by claiming they already have a photo they will share with others
  • Threats to harm the student or their friends or family
Online victims are often targeted on platforms they frequent. Victims reported that the first contact with their perpetrator typically came in the form of a social media friend request. - Thorn.org
The FBI has interviewed victims as young as 8, and the crime affects children of both genders and crosses all ethnic and socioeconomic groups. The victims are honor-roll students, the children of teachers, student athletes, etc. The only common trait among victims is Internet access. - FBI

Sextortion statistics (Source: National Center for Missing & Exploited Children)

  • Child sextortion victims range from 8 to 17 years-old
  • The number of sextortion reports to the NCMEC between 2019 and 2021 more than doubled
  • 79% of the offenders in early 2022 were seeking money

Where criminals target young people online

People who do not believe that their children could ever become victimized online are living in an unrealistic world. Regardless of if your child makes 'As' [in school] or not, that child has the potential to become victimized through online technologies. I think it is very important for parents of all socioeconomic status and with all different roles in society to take this problem very seriously. - Melissa Morrow, Supervisory Special Agent, Child Exploitation Squad, FBI

Sextortion Red Flags

(Source: National Center for Missing & Exploited Children)

NCMEC Logo
  • Approach a child on social media after learning about the child’s interests, friends, school, etc
  • Quickly ask for nudes after following or friending a child on social media
  • Move communications from one online platform to another for a more private chat
  • Offers of reciprocation (“I’ll show you, if you show me”)
  • Pretending to work for a modeling agency
  • Establishing a friendship/romantic relationship
  • Using multiple false online identities to contact a child
  • Pretending to be younger or the opposite gender
  • Accessing the child’s online account unauthorized to steal sexual images or videos
  • Threatening to create sexual images or videos of the child using digital editing tools

What is Online Enticement?

Online Enticement involves an individual communicating with someone believed to be a child via the internet with the intent to commit a sexual offense or abduction. The term is a broad category of sexual exploitation that includes sextortion. - National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

Warning Signs Your Child May Be In Contact With An Online Predator (Source:  Internet Safety 101)

  • Becomes secretive about online activities
  • Becomes obsessive about being online
  • Gets angry when he or she can’t get online
  • Receives phone calls from people you do not know or makes calls to numbers that you do not recognize
  • Receives gifts, mail, or packages from someone you do not know
  • Withdraws from family or friends
  • Changes screens or turns off the computer when an adult enters the room
  • Begins downloading pornography online

How Criminals Groom and Lure Children Online

What Is Grooming?

Online grooming is a process in which a predator uses seemingly casual or innocent information with the goal of establishing a relationship to gain a child’s trust. It may start with something as simple as a popular music group, sports team, or clothing trend. - Internet Safety 101

Tactics offenders use to exploit children online (Source: National Center for Missing and Exploited Children)

  • Engaging in sexual conversation/role-playing as a grooming method, rather than a goal
  • Asking the child for sexually explicit images of themselves or mutually sharing images
  • Developing a rapport through compliments, discussing shared interests or “liking” their online posts
  • Sending or offering sexually explicit images of themselves
  • Pretending to be younger
  • Offering an incentive such as a gift card, alcohol, drugs, lodging, transportation or food

How to start a digital dialogue with teens and tweens

Carrie Pasquarello, CEO & Co-Founder, Global Secure Resources Inc.

Carrie Pasquarello
Carrie Pasquarello

I always suggest starting a proactive communication plan early in life when our children are young. Setting time each day to teach communication skills will improve relationships and also incorporate empathy skills and exercises. But don’t worry if you are already at a stage where you feel every conversation is a challenge with your teen. It is not easy raising teenagers today. The good news is we have tips for developing a positive communication plan with those tough to reach kids. Start by asking open-ended questions. This technique allows your teen to answer your question with more than a yes or no.

An example would be "What was your favorite part of your day?” instead of "How was your day?" Where they could answer with one word “Fine” or Good.  You want to spend some time developing your question-asking skills. Once the positive communication plan is in place, you can start an open conversation about digital dangers.

How to protect children from predators who might try to groom them on popular online games?

One of the techniques I use when teaching children about online safety is to teach risk mitigation. We first need to know the risk to avoid the risk. I share information about ongoing sting operations that involve the FBI’s IC3 and Project Safe Childhood. We go over how criminals and predators use risk mitigation techniques too so that they won’t get caught. We go over techniques criminals use to fool and fake victims. We highlight the importance to improve students' instincts and intuition. We want children involved in creating a proactive preparedness plan.

5 Red flags for teens

If you feel something is wrong, it probably is. That is your intuition telling you that something is weird or something doesn’t feel right about this situation. There is no concrete evidence just a feeling.

When you have red flags or intuition, we want students to speak up and talk with a parent. If someone uses the following questions or statements, a red flag should go up. 

  • "Are you alone?"
  • "I will hurt your family if you don’t…"
  • "You are so mature."
  • "Your parents don’t know you as I do."
  • "Don’t tell anyone."

Watch this FBI Video on How Predators Groom and Lure Young Victims Online

Cyber Safety on YouTube from the FBI

What is Child Sex Trafficking?

Sex trafficking is a type of human trafficking and is a form of modern day slavery. Human trafficking occurs when a trafficker exploits an individual with force, fraud, or coercion to make them perform commercial sex or work. - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Sex trafficking statistics

  • The average age of child trafficking victims is 12-14 years old, youth as young as 3 years old have been rescued
  • 25% of all human trafficking are children
  • A child is sold for sex approximately 20-30 times per day (Source: liberatechildren.org)
  • 98% of reported offenders were unkown to the child offline
  • 82% of people enticing young people online are males
  • The CyberTipline received 29.3 million reports in 2021 of child cyber abuse (sexual abuse images, online enticement, sextortion, child sex trafficking, etc.), an increase of 35% over 2020
  • Child sex trafficking has been reported in all 50 states
  • The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received more than 17,200 reports of child sex trafficking in 2021 (Source: NCMEC)

High Risk Factors/Vulnerabilities for Trafficking Victims (Source:US Department of Health and Human Services)

  • Poverty, economic strain, or unemployment
  • Gender inequality
  • History of sexual abuse or neglect
  • Health/mental health issues
  • Substance abuse or experimentation
  • Unstable family conditions
  • Live in high crime areas
  • Low self-esteem
  • Runaways
Child trafficking advocates and law enforcement has seen an increase in social media being a source for child trafficking. Traffickers use social media to identify children, recruit them, and advertise potential children for trafficking. It is critical that parents be aware of and involved in their child’s social media presence. It is a best practice to have profiles set to private and friends lists hidden. - Liberatechildren.org

The 2019 Children's Internet Usage Study by the Center for Cyber Safety and Education found 40% of kids in grades 4-8 reported they connected or chatted online with a stranger. Of those 40%:

Center for Cyber Safety and Education
  • 53% revealed their phone number to a stranger
  • 21% spoke by phone with a stranger
  • 15% tried to meet with a stranger
  • 11% met a stranger in their own home, the stranger’s home, a park, mall or restaurant
  • 30% texted a stranger from their phone
  • 6% revealed their home address to a stranger

Watch How Predators and Sex Traffickers Target Children Online

Just because you don’t live in an urban area where you see exploitation happening does not mean that your child, sitting alone with their computer or their phone, in their bedroom, is not being exploited. - Erin Williamson, US Programs Director at Love146.org

Love146 is an international human rights organization working to end child trafficking and exploitation through survivor care and prevention.

Sex trafficking victim warning signs

This list of sex trafficking warning signs was created for parents and guardians by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children:

  • Chronically runs away from home
  • Unexplained school absences
  • Secret phones or apps that allow for multiple phone numbers
  • Possesses material goods inconsistent with the child’s access to money
  • Unexplained access to large amounts of cash, pre-paid money cards, or hotel keys
  • Close relationship with an overly controlling adult
  • Significant changes in behavior, including online 
  • Disconnects from family or friends 
  • Disengages from previously enjoyed activities
  • Talks about online escort ads or language associated with prostitution

Dangerous Online Terminology All Parents Should Know

SmartSocial.com's List of Teen Slang, Emojis, & Hashtags Parents Need to Know

30 Internet acronyms all parents need to know (Source: Child Rescue Coalition)

8 - Oral Sex

99 - Parent Gone

142 or 459 - I love you

182 - I hate you

1174 - Nude Club

ASL - Age/Sex/location

CD9 - Code 9 - it means parents are around

FYEO - For Your Eyes Only

GNOC - Get Naked on Camera

GYPO - Get Your Pants Off

HAK - Hugs and Kisses

IWSN - I Want Sex Now

J/O - Jerking Off

KFY - Kiss For You

KPC - Keeping Parents Clueless

MIRL - Meet in Real Life

MOS - Mom Over Shoulder

NIFOC - Nude In Front of Computer

NSFW - Not Safe For Work

P911 - Parent Alert

PAW - Parents are Watching 

PAL - Parents are Listening

PIR - Parents in Room

POS - Parent Over Shoulder

PRON - Porn

RUMORF - Are you male or female?

RUH - Are you horny?

SWAK - Sealed with a kiss

TDTM - Talk dirty to me

WTTP - Want to trade pictures?

What Can Parents Do?

Talk with your children about online safety

  • Teach your students the difference between appropriate and inappropriate content and be specific about what is off-limits
  • Set a rule that they can only be online "friends" with people they know in real life
  • Talk about the dangers of oversharing and keeping personal details (address, location, birthday, etc) private
  • Remind them their online actions can affect their future
  • Create a Family Media Agreement WITH your students and revisit and discuss it frequently
  • Reassure your students that they can always come to you or a trusted adult if they ever experience anything inappropriate or troubling online

Be on all the same apps your students are using

  • Read Smart Social's App Guides for 100+ Popular Teen Apps
  • Download each app your student wants to use or is already using, familiarize yourself with it, and decide if it’s appropriate for your family
  • If you decide it’s appropriate, follow your student on each platform
  • Familiarize yourself with the safety/privacy settings available on each app
  • Consider using a reputable Parental Control Software, but don't solely rely on it to keep your kids safe online. You are their best defense

3 Tips to Protect Children Online with Retired Police Lt. Joe Laramie

How to Get Help

missing image
Report It

If you think you have seen a missing child, or suspect a child may be sexually exploited, contact the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children 24-hours a day, 7 days a week.

Use the CyberTipline to report child sexual exploitation or call one of these helplines that are available 24/7:

  • National Center for Missing and Exploited Children: 1 (800) THE-LOST (843-5678)
  • National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1 (888) 373-7888
  • National Child Abuse Hotline: (800) 4-A-CHILD (2-24453)
  • National Sexual Assault Hotline: (800) 656-HOPE (4673)

Victims Share Their Stories

A victim of sextortion speaks out to help others avoid being victimized (source: FBI)

A mother shares how her 17 year-old daughter, a college student at Northeastern University, became a child sex trafficking victim (Source: UNICEF USA)

A woman shares the terrifying story of how she ran away from home, at the age of 13, to meet a man she met online (Source: Enough is Enough)

Two George Mason University students explain how they fell victim to sextortion (Source: ABC News)

Additional Resources for Parents, Students, and Educators

How COVID Changed Pornography Viewership In Teens and Why Images of Child Sexual Abuse Have Increased in Production and Consumption During the Pandemic:

Read More From Smart Social:

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