Fighting the sextortion of children

Police Colonel Morakot Sangsrakoo is with a very special agency within the Royal Thai Police. Since its creation in 2016, the Thailand Internet Crimes Against Children (TICAC) has been working to catch online predators and protect their victims, closing 212 cases and arresting 245 offenders. Unfortunately, there are more cases every year and a single offender can create hundreds of victims.

“There’s a growing desire among young people to achieve online fame, which their parents also support and encourage by creating online profiles for their children, even when their age violates the platform’s rules. This has led to growing online risk exposure,” said Pol Col Morakot.

We recently met with him after he gave a lecture on online privacy and sexual abuse at the dtac Young Safe Internet Cyber camp. The project is part of the dtac Safe Internet initiative to develop digital literacy and resilience skills for children and their family members, allowing them to surf the internet safely.

He focused particularly on sextortion, a form of blackmail where a perpetrator threatens to reveal intimate images of the victim online unless the victims give in to their demands for money, further intimate images or even a real-life encounter.

How sextortion happens

“Predators will choose their target through social media, where they will stalk the victim’s activities in order to gain information about ways to get closer to the victim and gain their trust, often by impersonation. This is called ‘online grooming,’ whereby the offender slowly builds up a relationship with a child to win their trust,” said Pol Col Morakot.

Predators will also lurk in chat rooms and record young people who post or live-stream sexually explicit images and videos of themselves. Or they may hack into their electronic devices using malware to gain access to their files and control their web camera and microphone.

“There was a case where the parents strongly wanted their child to become famous online. They sent her to acting school and opened social media accounts that allowed anyone to trace her activity. The predator created a fake profile and interacted with the victim by giving likes and comments until the predator secured sexually explicit pictures of the minor and they met in person,” said Pol Col Morakot.

Social media: the menu of predators

In some cases, there is no sextortion involved. The predators engage in “sexting,” sending and collecting intimate images, before disseminating the minor’s images online. In those cases, victims do not notice they have become a victim until they find their intimate photos online.

“Social media sites are like a menu of predators. They use it to pick and choose their victims. And once intimate images are leaked online, it is nearly impossible to remove them from circulation,” said Pol Col Morakot.

Stop sextortion

When sextortion happens, it leaves a deep trauma on the victims or survivors. When they encounter their sexually explicit images online, it can trigger severe depression. And victims may also become predators themselves.

“We’ve found that offenders have a common background of sexual molestation in their childhood. If a victim is not brought into the recovery process, they are at higher risk of becoming a perpetrator when they grow up,” Pol Col Morakot.

Apart from individual cases, it’s also important to take a broader view of measures to stop sextortion, which should start from prevention. Family plays an essential role in protecting children from online risks. Parents should monitor internet usage and both children and teachers should be educated on the online threats they face.

In response to this challenge, dtac has created a “Class for Super Kids” and “Class for Super Teachers.” The “Class for Super Kids” curriculum is designed to boost Thai children’s digital resilience as well as knowledge in advanced technology to prepare them for the digital future. Meanwhile, the “Class for Super Teachers” offers teaching approach and materials for teachers to administer digital resilience classes. It also helps teachers stay relevant to the online learning environment, which has become the new-normal for Thailand’s education. The courses are available at https://learn.safeinternet.camp/

dtac Safe Internet has launched a series of podcast “R U OK Safe Internet”, featuring content on how to use internet safely. Sextortion is one of the topics, outlining components of sexual blackmail, how it works and how to protect children.