'Sextortion' Human Trafficking Prevention Month Topic

1 month ago

In December President Joe Biden proclaimed January as National Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

"Together, we can combat human trafficking and its cruel consequences — creating a safer, freer and more just world for everyone," the proclamation states.

Biden encouraged people to report tips or seek help by calling the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888.

The Defense Department also came out with a proclamation on Jan. 5 stating "Human trafficking is the use of force, fraud or coercion to compel a person to perform commercial sex, labor or services. The DOD is dedicated to doing its part to eliminate human trafficking not only because it is a crime against humanity, but also because it disrupts the stability of U.S. national security interests at home and abroad."

Speaking at a human trafficking awareness and prevention event at the Pentagon, William H. Booth, director of Defense Human Resources Activity, said he's happy about the proclamations, but people should be aware of human trafficking year-round.

Booth encouraged people to visit the DOD Combating Trafficking in Persons website  to report tips and get help or training. He also encouraged parents and teenagers to look at the DOD's CTIP Student Guide to Preventing Human Trafficking.

The topic of the NHTPM Pentagon event was "sextortion," with a focus on child victims of exploitation.

Sextortion is a serious crime that occurs when the perpetrator threatens to distribute private and sensitive material if the victim doesn't provide images of a sexual nature, sexual favors or money.

"Online perpetrators might gain your trust by pretending to be someone they are not. They lurk in chat rooms and record young people who post or live-stream sexually explicit images and videos of themselves, or they may hack into your electronic devices using malware to gain access to your files and control your web camera and microphone without you knowing it," according to the FBI website.

The Pentagon event highlighted the Academy Award-nominated documentary, "Sextortion: The Hidden Pandemic." Filmmakers Stephen and Maria Peek, participated in a panel discussion after the showing.

Booth noted that the perpetrator in the documentary, Daniel Chase Harris, was someone who wouldn't normally be suspected — an active-duty naval aviator and Top Gun graduate stationed at Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia.

On March 9, 2015 Harris was found guilty on 31 counts related to the sextortion case; he was later sentenced to 50 years in prison. The film includes testimony from the victimized children, their parents, law enforcement officials and investigators.

The investigation and evidence presented at trial revealed that Harris posed as a teenage boy online and convinced girls between the ages of 12 and 17 to send him risqué pictures of themselves, according to the Department of Justice.

Harris then extorted the girls to send him additional, sexually graphic and explicit images of themselves by threatening them with posting the images online or sending the images to family and friends. Nine victims were involved in this case, including three from Virginia. According to the DOJ, in pronouncing the sentence, U.S. District Judge Mark S. Davis stated Harris' actions were "sadistic" and equated to "torture."

During the subject matter expert panel discussion after the film, Jim Cole, supervisory special agent for Homeland Security Investigation and chairman of Interpol's Specialist Group on Crimes Against Children, said that as a special agent for 20 years, he's seen a rise in sextortion cases.

Victimizing oftentimes involves multiple victims. The perpetrators are often members of organized exploitation groups that communicate with each other and trade explicit photos of juvenile males and females," Cole said.

Another panelist, Michelle DeLaune, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said sextortion increasingly involves demands for money in addition to sexually explicit photos.

DeLaune said there are a variety of social media sites where predators lurk. Parents need to talk to their children about these sites and tell them not to take risqué pictures of themselves or engage with people they meet on social media.

If children do something that could lead to sextortion, they should be encouraged to report it to their parents without fear of shame or punishment, she said.

Children should also be encouraged to report suspicious behavior by their friends, who might be victims of sextortion. Reports can be made to the CyberTipline.

NCMEC also recently launched a new webpage, Take It Down, as a service to help children remove online nude, partially nude or sexually explicit photos and videos taken of children under 18 years old.

To further the CTIP mission, the DOD Military Criminal Investigative Organizations will participate in an Internet Crimes Against Children Public Awareness Working Group roundtable hosted by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention March 1, 2023 at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. This roundtable will bring together representatives from the ICAC Task Force, OJJDP, DOJ, FBI, HSI, DOD, NCMEC, Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children, and others who work in the online safety field. The primary goal of this meeting will be to establish a collaborative prevention coalition and identify effective and consistent messaging.

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