'Sextortion' community meeting in Bloomington addresses emerging crime targeting youth in Minnesota

May 14, 2019 11:05 PM

A concerning type of crime is emerging in Minnesota.

It's called 'sextortion,' where cyber predators befriend kids online or through apps and persuade them to send sexually explicit images or videos. Experts said at a meeting in Bloomington Tuesday night the culprit tends to want more photos and demands them from the unsuspecting young child. If the predator doesn't get what they want, threats and blackmail occur.

According to the United States Attorney's Office in Minnesota, prosecution of these kinds of cases are up 40% over last year. United States Attorney Erica MacDonald said 25% of the victims in the cases federal prosecutors have seen are 12-years-old and younger. 

RELATED: Local, federal authorities to host sextortion community meeting Tuesday evening in Bloomington

"These staggering statistics are a call to action," she said.

MacDonald was joined onstage by Bloomington Police Chief Jeff Potts, Jill Sanborn with the FBI, Forensic Interviewer Bonnie Fries, Dale Hanson with the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and Bloomington Detective Heather Pott. 

Parents, teachers, activists and anyone who wanted to learn more about sextortion and how to thwart it were invited to attend and ask questions.

The FBI's Jill Sanborn explained why the federal agency gets involved. 

"Many cases involve multiple states and multiple victims and we have the jurisdiction to investigate across state lines," she said. "The impact on the victim and the cost to a community is so great, this calls on us to be involved."

Experts urged parents who stumble upon what they think could be sextortion to resist the delete button and instead, preserve the interactions and images, so authorities can use it as evidence and get to the bottom of who a suspected predator is.

Fries is an FBI Forensic Interviewer who meets one-on-one with victims and hears what happened to them. Fries said teens often don't tell their parents about the electronic blackmail for fear of having their technology taken away. She encouraged families to have understanding, open dialogues with their kids and reinforce that they are the victims and there is no stigma in what happened to them. 

Fries has seen how boys and girls have both been traumatized.

RELATED: Effort to raise awareness and investigations of 'sextortion' cases targeting children

"I've seen lots of kids self-mutilate, suicide is very high, because of the embarrassment, shame and guilt they feel," Fries said.

Pott talks with students in their schools, holds presentations at community events and said she's noticed a disturbing trend. 

"Girls at the middle-school age will willingly send private, compromising photos to friends, assuming the pictures stay between them but if there is a disagreement for whatever reason, the graphic pictures or videos get shared publicly or posted on social media out of spite and the student is traumatized when they can't be taken down," Pott said. "Once they take a photograph and it's in someone else's hands, they no longer have control and girls can be mean in middle school."

Authorities urged parents to get their child's passwords for online or apps to monitor what they are doing or set parental controls.

Also, anyone can anonymously report sextortion attempts to various organizations, listed below:

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Beth McDonough

Copyright 2019 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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