The Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) has issued a warning that Australia is witnesssing a global trend in the crime of sexual extortion, with a spike in the number of Australian boys being preyed on by international sex offenders, who are grooming them into producing explicit images and then extorting them for money.
The ACCCE said the number of reports involving boys had more than quadrupled between mid-2021 and this year, driven by a sharp rise in offshore offenders targeting Australian boys for financial gain.
Commander ACCCE and Human Exploitation Hilda Sirec said while coercing and blackmailing minors for sexually-explicit videos and images was not new, it was previously very rare for police to receive reports about offenders demanding money from children.
“Tactics can vary, but child sex offenders commonly pose as girls and befriend boys via social media platforms, image-sharing apps or online games,” Commander Sirec said.
Once the pair connected, the ‘girl’ would request they communicate privately and engage in sexualised conversations before sending explicit images of her fake self, often sourced from a victim of previous offending. The boy would then be asked to send nude images or videos in return.
Commander Sirec said the predator might also manipulate the boy into engaging in explicit activity on camera, which they secretly recorded.
“These predators reveal they had footage of the child in compromising positions and demand money in return for not sharing the vision with family and friends or posting it online,” Commander Sirec said.
“We have seen predators initially demanding an impossibly large sum of money, then negotiating with the victim on a lower amount they could actually pay.
“Once that money was paid – either by bank transfer, online game, gift cards or even cryptocurrency – the predator would demand even more money. They are not deterred by the age of the victim, they care only about the profit they can make,” Sirec said.
The ACCCE works with many international law enforcement partners who are also seeing an increase in the number of boys being blackmailed for money.
Commander Sirec said authorities were issuing the warning to urge victims to seek help and report the crime, and that they will not be in trouble for coming forward.
“These crimes have devastating effects on children and their families,” Sirec said.
“These offenders are very manipulative and they will threaten and frighten children to get what they want, including telling victims they will be in trouble with law enforcement if they speak up.
“We are appealing to parents and carers to talk to their children about online safety, how to recognise suspicious behaviour online and speak out if they have been targeted.
“If your child is or has been a victim, reassure them that it’s not their fault and that there is help available.
“By reporting what has happened, they may help us catch an offender and prevent other children being harmed.”
Warning signs could include inconsistences with an online profile or language, meeting on one app and then being encouraged to continue a conversation on a different platform, or the person claiming their webcam or microphone was not working for video calls.