The Techniques of a Predator: Part II – Bribery and Threats

In The Techniques of a Predator: Part I we discussed how online predators groom children for both online and offline sexual attacks using trust and romance to manipulate them.  Now, we will conclude this discussion by talking about how predators can use bribery and threats as well and we will give you additional ways to protect your children. 

Bribery

Here, predators offer gifts to the other person in exchange for getting what they want.  This often takes the form of gift cards that can be redeemed online. For younger victims, gift cards to Google Play or iOS App Store are popular.  For older children, Amazon gift cards are popular, as are those to gaming platforms. They are easily obtained and the redemption codes can be sent via text or by taking a picture of the card’s unique code. They can also be difficult to trace, especially when bought in a store and sent as a picture.

Similar to the stereotypical drug dealer exchange, the first “gift” may be provided for free.  After that, the predator suggests that since they did something for the victim, then the victim should do something in return before they give them another gift.

Threats

Once an intimate image is sent, it is easily used as leverage to get more.  However, another type of threat is becoming more common. In this case, a predator takes their time to groom their target over an extended period of time.  All during this time, there is nothing done or said that could be construed as troubling. Everything seems safe and risk-free.

During this time, the predator is learning about their target through seemingly innocent conversation, asking questions such as:

  • “Where do you go to school?”
  • “Where do you live?”
  • “Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

Depending on the app being used, their privacy settings, and if they’ve actually friended/connected this person, the predator has complete access to everything they’ve posted.  They can see who their friends and family member are through their Facebook profile, for example. They can see who they follow on Instagram and who follows them. They can see who they’ve tagged in images and who has tagged them.

This all leads up to the predator threatening to physically hurt the people that their victim knows if they do not send pictures or videos to the predator. Scared and not sure whom to trust, minors often send the pictures to protect their family and friends. This only makes the situation worse, leading to more cases of sextortion.

In the case of Ashley Reynolds, she was contacted by a man who said that he had naked photos of her and would send them to her friends if she didn’t send him more pictures. Ashley was confident that nobody had such pictures of her like that, as she’d never sent any pics like that to anyone. She was 14 at the time.

Even if the images were not of her though, Ashley worried that people would not believe her if she denied it. Doubting herself, she yielded to his demands, which led to months of anguish, until her parents found out what was happening. She was sending as many as 60 pictures per day to her attacker. Eventually, her attacker made a mistake that led to his arrest. According to the FBI, he was a 31 year old man from Florida, with over 80,000 images on his computer from 350 girls, across 26 states, Canada and the U.K.  He was sentenced to 105 years in prison for his crimes.

Had Ashley never sent the image to her attacker, she could very well have gotten through the situation, even if he had followed through on his threat to send pictures that were reportedly of her.  By giving in, the opened the door to not being able to deny the pictures were of her.

How You Can Protect Your Family

Talk to your child about how sharing intimate photos online can affect them.

Parents need to discuss the realities of what can happen if such images ever make it to the Internet.  One of those realities is that the images may never go away. They become part of their Digital Footprint – the impressions left behind long after the person does something online.

Wisdom comes with time, something that by their very nature, children lack.

Parents need to have “the talk” with their kids earlier than they expect to about what is acceptable and responsible with regards to online behavior.  This may be more difficult to do than some parents would expect.

In the world where kids feel like they have to send such pictures or feel that it’s no big deal to show off their bodies, a “scared straight” approach might be what it takes to get through to them.

In Shame Nation, the Global Epidemic of Online Hate, the authors interviewed people involving a case coming from an affluent town in Massachusetts. Using Dropbox, an online storage site for file sharing, several high school boys reportedly starting posting intimate images of girls from the school.  Even after the story broke, girls continued to send pictures to boys, knowing that they would likely end up on the site. They considered it an honor, with one mother saying, “It was a bit of a beauty contest… Some are mortified, some are proud.”

Encourage them to consider who could see what they share online.

In business classes that I teach, we discuss the Four P’s of Marketing.   I took that approach and turned it into the Four P’s of Social Media:

  1. Parents (or other family members)
  2. Principal (or employer)
  3. Police
  4. Predator

Everyone should consider how they’d feel if any of the Four P’s of Social Media saw what people did online.  Parents need to discuss what is acceptable and unacceptable to do online with their children – probably far earlier than they expect to have to do so.

Understand how important it is that you talk to your child about sex and consent.

Last year, I gave a presentation to all of the principals and guidance counselors in my own district’s schools.  This originated after a district administrator noticed an increase in sexting at the grade school level! Even before that, when our daughter was in third grade, a classmate announced that she posts inappropriate pictures of herself on Instagram.  It turned out to be not true in this case, but that statement was a cry for attention. A cry for help!

As Dr. Mary Anne Franks, the tech policy director at the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative explains, “Parents have to be willing to talk to their children about sex and the importance of sexual consent. Otherwise, they leave children to learn about sex from peers, porn, and predators.” When we choose to teach them about sex ourselves, we can limit the sexual influences of other people and teach them how to deal with pressure from outside sources, like predators.

Whether parents like it or not, sexting is the new norm for this generation.  Forbidding them from doing it won’t stop them. If that were the case, children would always do as their told.  Is that the way it works? In most homes, the answer is no. Some treat sexting as comparable to dating – before their parents will actually let them go out on a date.  Others see it as “getting to first base”.

The old saying, “Do as I say, not as I do,” is no longer acceptable.

Be a role model.

Additionally, parents need to realize that they are role models to their kids 24/7.  When they see adults or older siblings do things, they expect that it’s acceptable behavior and will not realize it may not be good for them. In a new study that just came out from the founders of the Cyberbullying Research Center, boys, not girls, were more likely to be targeted for sextortion.  This surprised them and would probably shock many parents, who tend to think more about protecting girls from online sexual predators.

In conclusion, by speaking to our children clearly and openly about sexuality and online dangers, we give them the knowledge they need to make healthier decisions. And when we begin the dialogue with them, they are more likely to be open with us when they are facing a questionable situation.

Prevention here is not worth an ounce of cure.  It’s worth an immeasurable amount of cure!

About the Author

Joe Yeager is the founder of Safety Net of PA, LLC and has been a cybersafety advocate for several years. He is an adjunct professor at Thomas Jefferson University. He is certified by the US Centers for Disease Control in Bullying Prevention and is the cyberbullying advisor to Fifty Shades of Purple against Bullying. He is also the author of #DigitalParenting- A Parent's Guide to Social Media, Cyberbullying &Online Activity, which was chosen as an Editor’s Pick in April 2016. Joe is a member of the PedSafe Expert team

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