LANSING, Mich. (WILX) – A growing threat targeting young children and teens. The FBI is warning parents about the dangers of online activity that could lead to their children engaging in sexual acts. It’s called sextortion and it can lead victims to self-harm or even suicide.

“I had to give up my body to people for a place to sleep. Or I had to basically do things that I didn’t want to do.” Honey is in her early 20s. She said as a minor, she was forced into sexual acts in return for drugs, food, or just a warm place to sleep.

Honey said, “well at times I was forced by my baby daddy.”

In a new report released by the FBI’s Detroit Field Office, sextortion targeting minors is on the rise. It involves an offender coercing a minor to create and send sexually explicit images or videos. Once the material is received, offenders threaten to release compromising material unless they receive payment. It’s often requested in the form of gift cards, mobile payment services, wire transfers, or cryptocurrency.

“We’ve had several cases recently with juveniles as young as 10 being involved in these types of investigations and it’s something that we’ve seen on the rise lately,” said Detective Sergeant Thomas Gladney, with MSP’s Computer Crimes Unit (CCU).

He said, “it’s tough to put a timeline on how often this happens because a lot of it doesn’t get reported to us. A lot of times when it does get reported to us, it’s already gone to the point where people are demanding money.”

“We’re seeing cases like this come in on a weekly basis right now.”

Sgt. Gladney said changes in behavior and being secretive with electronic devices could be signs that your kid is a victim of sextortion.

The FBI and Homeland Security and Investigations said they received more than 13,000 reports of online sextortion of minors involving more than 12,000 victims (mostly boys), leading to at least 20 suicides.

According to the report, victims are usually teenage boys between 14 and 17 years old.

“Because 14 to 17 year old males are viewed as the most vulnerable when it comes to making these types of contacts and getting content to be exchanged,” said Sgt. Gladney.

Honey said she wants to bring awareness to sextortion to encourage families to have open and honest conversations about it. “I want people to know that this is actually happening. This is not a joke or a game.”

The FBI said they saw a 20% rise in reports of sextortion involving minors from October 2022 to March 2023.

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