FOX 45 investigates why laws might not be enough to protect your kids from sextortion

FOX 45 investigates why laws might not be enough to protect your kids from sextortion (WKEF/WRGT)

MIAMI VALLEY, Ohio (WKEF/WRGT) – If you were to type the word "sextortion" into Google, you’d see more than 660,000 results show up.

Even with all that information available, it still isn’t a topic that’s widely understood.

"What is sextortion?" is a question posted in a video on the FBI website; one that many have.

"Is sextortion related to sex-related crimes?" is asked in that same video, and that's the answer you'll get from the u-s attorney for the Southern District of Ohio Benjamin Glassman.

"Predators will always try to exploit people when they are vulnerable," U.S. Attorney Glassman said.

In fact, U.S. Attorney Glassman said 99 percent of their cases involving sextortion involve an adult predator and minor victim.

"The perpetrator is using social media and using internet messaging apps, Kick, What's App, SnapChat that sort of thing makes it extremely easy for a perpetrator to find and develop a relationship with and groom a victim," he said.

"The younger generation is a little bit more trusting of people online," said Latisha Gathers-Hutchins, Clinical Psychologist from Dayton Children's Hospital.

Gathers-Hutchins calls the predators master manipulators who know how to lure children.

"They kind of know how to work it so they build a sense of trust in order to make these kids feel like they're safe," she said.

She said kids need to know who to stay away from online.

"If someone does ask you for that inappropriate picture a red flag should go off," said Gathers-Hutchins.

It's a red flag that Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy Smith said shouldn't stop kids from telling their parents that something is wrong.

"Embarrassment is not a reason for not coming forward with this," said U.S. Assistant Attorney Smith.

She said often times, victims are too ashamed.

"The amount that we see, is an underrepresentation of the actual number of predators out there seeking children," said U.S. Assistant Attorney Smith.

Those predators aren't the only ones facing serious consequences.

"I've heard of children unfortunately taking their own lives after they've been extorted by someone," said Thaddeus Hoffmeister, Professor of Law at the University of Dayton.

Hoffmeister said when it comes to prosecuting a suspect in a sextortion case, there’s a lot of catching up to do.

"The law is always behind. The law is always behind technology," said Hoffmeister.

"Sextortion in and of itself is not a federal crime," U.S. Attorney Glassman said.

Instead, adult suspects preying on minors are often charged with having or soliciting child pornography and extortion.

That’s a hard lesson Centerville High School teacher Janet Place tries to teach her students.

"We try to make them aware of those instances, we try to make them aware of the laws, we try to make them aware of how they can protect themselves," said Place.

She talks about sexting and how it can lead to sextortion in her class, hoping she can make a difference.

"I look out at my class and I think, ‘But it can't be them. They're so sweet and innocent it can't be these kids’, but statistically if I look at the cold hard stats I know statistically some of them are sending pictures of themselves," said Place.

Her message to her kids is what she calls a "gut check."

"The tests are like if your grandma would be ashamed if they saw that it's probably not okay," said Place.

U.S. Attorney Glassman has a "gut check" for the predators online.

"These are extremely serious crimes. The federal government and our state and local governments take it very seriously. And we will investigate and prosecute any cases that we can," said U.S. Attorney Glassman.

U.S. legislators have proposed a bill in the house called the "Online Safety Modernization Act of 2017".

A summary of that bill still hasn't been posted to the web site.

It would establish laws and punishments for those harassed or extorted online.

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