(Pexels)

Privacy lawyer warns against victim blaming in recent sextortion scams

Perpetrators get sexual photos of the victim and threaten to share them with friends and families

A Canadian expert in privacy says he’s concerned about victim blaming after recent reports of online “sextortion” scams in two Atlantic Canadian provinces.

Such scams typically involve the perpetrator befriending their victims on social media, obtaining sexual photos and videos of them and threatening to share them with the victims’ friends and families if they don’t send money or comply with other demands.

On Thursday, Newfoundland and Labrador RCMP issued a statement saying they’ve received “reports of several incidents in the province.”

This came only a couple weeks after Nova Scotia RCMP said they’ve responded to six sextortion incidents since January.

“If you make a video or take a photo and that device has the ability to connect to the internet, the content can potentially be seen by anyone,” said Staff Sgt. Royce MacRae of the Nova Scotia RCMP’s tech crime unit at the time.

“One way to protect yourself from this type of scam is to avoid accepting friend requests from strangers.”

David Fraser, a privacy lawyer at McInnes Cooper in Halifax, said that this kind of extortion is especially damaging, as the perpetrators use their victim’s vulnerabilities to blackmail them into meeting their demands.

He said that he knows of at least one case that resulted in someone losing their job after intimate photos were shared.

“I’ve seen firsthand that it’s absolutely devastating,” he said in an interview on Saturday. “It’s an incredible betrayal. Every one of us has a private life, and this is something that is among the most private, and it’s the sort of thing that can be used for shaming purposes.”

He said that being the victim of a sextortion crime is nothing to be ashamed of, though he added “that does not provide any comfort (to them) whatsoever.”

Victim blaming runs rampant with these types of cases, he said, with victims of such crimes sometimes being told that they shouldn’t have sent the pictures or videos in the first place.

He said that kind of mindset doesn’t help the victim and places the onus of the crime on them instead of the person who extorted them.

“It’s like abstinence-only sexual education: it’s not going to work,” he said. ”All you’re doing is making people feel worse.”

Fraser added that he’s worried that many sextortion cases may go unreported if victims feel too ashamed to go to the police due to the sensitive nature of the crime, or if they feel like they’ll be subjected to victim blaming.

“So much of the harm is psychological, and if the process of reporting it is going to compound it, then that’s not helpful,” he said.

The deaths of Amanda Todd of B.C. and Rehteah Parsons of N.S. helped highlight the damaging impacts of sextortion and non-consensual image-sharing, said Fraser.

Todd died by suicide in 2012 shortly after posting a heart-wrenching video detailing her emotional suffering after a man used a topless picture of her in an attempt to extort more intimate images from her. She was 15 at the time of her death.

And Parsons, 17, was taken off life support days after a suicide attempt in 2013 after a photograph of her alleged sexual assault by four boys at a house party in 2011 was distributed online.

Fraser said the tragedies sparked a national and international discussion about police training when it comes to the growing trend of online crime.

“Amanda Todd and Rehteah Parsons were both circumstances in which really bad things, and illegal things, happened to both of them, but the police did not recognize them or take them seriously,” he said.

“That, I think, in large measure, contributed to their ultimate decision to take their own lives.”

Fraser hopes that further discussion and awareness of the issue will help spur officials to deal with these types of crimes in a sensitive, victim-centred manner, as well as make victims feel more comfortable coming forward.

The RCMP said that anyone who feels like they may be a victim of such a scam should immediately cease all contact, refuse to comply with threats, and call the police or the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

Alex Cooke, The Canadian Press


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Wolf Creek Schools raises Treaty 6 flag for first time

Chiefs, school officials took part in a ceremony that is aimed at acknowledging Treaty 6 land

Pair arrested in Ponoka with several weapons, face 98 charges

Two men nabbed after early morning suspicious vehicle reported, stolen weapons found

UPDATE: 18-year-old Rimbey teen dies in collision

A portion of Highway 53 west of Rimbey is down to one lane while crews investigate

Ponoka County approves $70,000 to dredge Parkland Beach

Parkland Beach to see some dredging support from Ponoka County

Ponoka sets bylaw on cannabis retail, pushes for quick public consumption regulation

Town passes first reading on retail outlet bylaw, questions staff on need to separate public usage

U.S. congressman issues dire warning to Canada’s NAFTA team: time is running out

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland is expected to resume talks with the U.S.

Update: Search called off for missing plane between Edmonton and Chilliwack

Search efforts were concentrated along the Highway 5 corridor between Valemount and Kamloops

Canada signs global pact to help rid world’s oceans of abandoned fishing gear

The federal Fisheries Minister says it’s a ‘critical issue’

GOP pushing forward for Kavanaugh, accuser wants ‘fairness’

Kavanaugh has denied al allegations of sexual misconduct

Rural Canada Post carriers could see 25-per-cent pay hike: spokesman

An arbitrator has released a ruling in a long-standing pay equity dispute at Canada Post

Freeland brings optimism back to NAFTA talks

NAFTA talks resume in Washington

Bradley Williams takes over as Westerner Park Interim CEO

CFR expected to go on as scheduled with no disruption

Despite protests, Russia’s anti-doping agency reinstated

On a 9-2 vote, the executive committee declared RUSADA as having satisfied conditions

The longest week: Carolinas worn out by Florence

Frustration and sheer exhaustion are building as thousands of people wait to go home seven days after the storm began battering the coast.

Most Read