Grieving B.C. parents warn of 'predators' after sextortion suicide of son, aged 12
Prince George RCMP are alerting parents and caregivers to the dangers of sextortion after determining that a 12-year-old boy killed himself after being blackmailed online. The RCMP logo is seen outside the force's 'E' division headquarters in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, March 16, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
The Canadian Press
Published Monday, November 27, 2023 6:33PM EST
Parents of a 12-year-old boy who killed himself last month after falling prey to online sextortion are urging others to talk to their kids to make sure they don't also become victims of internet "predators."
"They're just, they're not built for problems like this. They're not built for adult problems in a kid's world," Carson Cleland's father, Ryan Cleland, told CKPG, a television station in Prince George, B.C.
Mounties in Prince George issued a statement Monday, more than six weeks after the boy died, to warn parents about the risks youth face on the internet.
The statement said officers went to the boy’s home on Oct. 12 and found him with a gunshot wound. Their investigation later determined he killed himself as a result of online sextortion.
Sextortion is a form of blackmail in which threats are made to reveal a person's online sexual behaviour, such as photos or videos obtained deceptively.
Carson's family said he often used the social media platform Snapchat to communicate with others.
His mother, Nicola Smith, called for more parental involvement in children's internet use.
"Be more active with your kids, even if you are active, which we were," she told CKPG. “Talk to your kids about predators and all this stuff that’s happening and the safety online.”
The case is not isolated, police say.
RCMP spokeswoman Cpl. Jennifer Cooper said the practice of online predators extorting people for money or sexual favours is on the rise.
"Anywhere that youth have access to social media, this is happening," Cooper said in an interview.
The Prince George detachment said in its statement it had received 62 reports of online sextortion so far this year, surpassing the 56 they had last year.
"While not every case of online sextortion will end in tragedy, the consequences of this kind of activity can follow a youth for their entire life, which needs to be something we talk about openly with our kids," Cooper said.
She said it can be "very resource intensive" for police to figure out which country the perpetrator is operating from.
"These people committing these crimes come from all over the world as well, so it's basically something that we're facing globally," she said.
"They take lots of steps to protect their own identities while defrauding others of theirs, so that's kind of the ironic part of it all," she added, referring to the predators.
Cooper said victims of sextortion are advised to stop all communication with their blackmailer right away, not give in to their demands, deactivate the online communication account and — most importantly — reach out for help.
"These are con artists and they're predators, and they're only out for financial gain for themselves. We need to be really, really sure that our kids know what kind of dangers are out there and what they can expect to encounter if they're going online."
Many of the victims of sextortion are male. A review of 322 cases sent to the national sexual abuse tip line Cybertip.ca in July last year found that 92 per cent of cases in which the gender of the victim was known involved boys or young men.
One of the most prominent cases of sextortion in Canada was that of Amanda Todd, a B.C. 15-year-old who killed herself in 2012 after posting a video using flash cards to describe being tormented by a cyberbully.
Her blackmailer, Dutch national Aydin Coban, was sentenced to 13 years in prison after a Canadian trial but his sentence will be served in the Netherlands, where a decision about how to convert the sentence hasn't yet occurred.
Coban was convicted of possession of child pornography, extortion, criminal harassment and communicating with a young person to commit a sexual offence.