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Shining a light on dark side of child sexploitation in Central Okanagan

Police unit makes presentation to Central Okanagan trustees
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The idea that a child within the Central Okanagan School District is being sexually exploited goes against the principle that public schools are a safe place for students to learn.

But the grim realities of sexual exploitation, sexting and sextortion hit home with school trustees at the board of education meeting on Wednesday (May 22).

The trustees were given a presentation on those topics by two members of the Kelowna RCMP Integrated Child Exploitation (ICE) Unit, Cpl. James Jenkins and Const. Jason Tymofichuk.

The three-member unit, one of only three in the province, with others in Vancouver and Surrey, is entrusted with pursuing and investigating child exploitation complaints, which could number two to three a day in Kelowna.

ICE has been offering public education presentations to Grade 12 law class students, but a local parent suggested the unit appear before school trustees to share their experiences and advice on how to protect children from technology being used as a blackmail weapon.

According to some of the presentation material, sextortion is a scam that is trending at an alarming rate, likely to get more complicated as Artificial Intelligence becomes another recruiting tool for child predators.

The ICE officers said more than 10,000 inducement texts are sent out in hopes of drawing in youth every 12 hours on the Internet, with the prime targets being middle school students and younger.

From 2018 to 2022, there was a surge of 815 per cent of phone tips to cybertip.ca, Canada’s tipline for reporting the online sexual abuse and exploitation of children, operated by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.

The most noticeable spike period occurred during the COVID pandemic.

Once a report has been submitted, a Cybertip.ca child protection analyst will review the reported information and any supplemental information located through online searches.

If that information pertains to a potentially illegal incident, the report is sent to the appropriate law enforcement agency for further investigation.

That people are referring complaints to cybertip.ca is a positive response to public education awareness of the problem, but it also reflects the sheer growing volume of Internet sexual blackmailers.

Cybertip.ca reports receiving an average of 10 sextortion reports per day; when genders are known some 90 per cent of sextortion victims are male; typically boys are sextorted for money and girls for images; sextortion demands often come from international organized criminal networks; and 79 per cent of sextortion incidents occurred on Instagram and Snapchat.

Jenkins said that is a reflection of children engaging in chat discussions with people they don’t know, lured in by a misrepresenting conversation, and parents not aware or paying attention to what their kids are accessing on the Internet.

“Part of our role here is to educate both the parents and their kids,” said Tymofichuk.

Both officers stressed the importance of youth who have been victimized to report what happened to the RCMP, as Jenkins said it is the duty of the police to track down the perpetrators.

Tymofichuk said both he and Jenkins are fathers, as they along with their third ICE member share a commitment to making a difference in protecting youth from online predators.

Trustees and school district staff extended their appreciation for what they do as officers to protect youth and endure the disheartening, dark world the officers are exposed to on a daily basis.

“I thank you for being out in that world and trying to make a difference,” said trustee Amy Geistlinger.

The ICE officers outlined several steps youth can take to protect themselves:

• Do not stop to chat with anyone you don’t know online

• Do take screenshots of the text and profile

• Do block the account and report it to the platform

• Do report it to cybertip.ca or local police

• Do not pay anything or respond to demands

• Don’t continue the conversation

“Our message to victims is you are not alone. Support is there to help you through what can be a difficult situation,” said Jenkins.

Terry-Lee Beaudry, deputy superintendent, said the presentation from the ICE members was “difficult to hear but it is critical we have the knowledge” to direct public policy wherever possible to educate awareness and protect students from being sexually exploited.



Barry Gerding

About the Author: Barry Gerding

Senior regional reporter for Black Press Media in the Okanagan. I have been a journalist in the B.C. community newspaper field for 37 years...
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