What Parents Need to Know about Cyberabuse and Sextortion

Carol and Amanda Todd.photo

Written by: Where Parents Talk Staff

Published: Apr 11, 2023

Photo courtesy:  twitter.com/c_todd

Through searing grief, Carol Todd works tirelessly to keep her daughter’s memory alive.

“The one thing that that brings me up is knowing that Amanda’s voice is still out there, that I can talk about her, that the world can continue to learn about her story.”

Click for video transcription

Welcome to where parents talk. My name is Lianne Castelino. Our guest today is an educator, mother and advocate, committed to anti bullying, education, Internet safety and online exploitation awareness. Carol Todd is the founder of the Amanda Todd legacy society, a nonprofit organization launched following the death of Amanda Todd in 2012. She was just 15 years old when she committed suicide after years of being bullied and tormented by an online predator. Amanda was the victim of sextortion a serious crime involving blackmail online using explicit images. Carol Todd joins us today from Port Coquitlam BC. Thank you so much for being here.

Thanks for inviting me.

Carol, it’s been more than a decade since Amanda’s passing. And I wonder how are you and how have you been able to cope with this loss?

Well, it’s it’s had its ups and downs. The one thing that that brings me is knowing that Amanda’s voice is still out there, that I can talk about her that the world can continue to learn about her story. And this wouldn’t be possible if she hadn’t created that eight minute YouTube video illustrating and sharing her story and to further that, many people think that the video because it was created proximately, five weeks before her death, but it was a note to everyone a suicide note, but it wasn’t it was Amanda’s sharing her story because she wanted her her peer based cyber abusers. Right? To know that she wasn’t afraid of them. She was taking her power back. And she wanted to share her version of the story. And I mean, never would We think that she left her story behind for others to learn about. So if it wasn’t for Amanda, I probably wouldn’t. If it wasn’t for Amanda, leaving her video, posting it and sharing it, which it’s been viewed about 50 million times. She might have just been come a statistic in, in that mental health, sphere of conversation, right? A statistic, but because she left her story behind visually, we can continue to watch it, learn about it, and more importantly, talk about it.
And you’ve taken that video, and you’ve taken the grief and the pain and you’ve channeled it into furthering that legacy in terms of educating and making others around you aware.

And I’m I wonder when you go and talk to parents and you talk to schools and universities, what are you hearing from the people you talk to that really strikes you perhaps even surprises you with respect to cyber abuse, sextortion, etc.

Um, I think the most surprising elements would be when, after I’ve presented or, or spoken on stage, others come up to me and they share their story, it released them to be able to talk about any abuses or online abuses that happened to them. And so even the mental health aspect, and then knowing that they can be directed to someone who who can support them. The other the other aspect would be individuals who parents who come up to me and thanked me, because it’s all of a sudden open the door. It’s given them knowledge, and it’s opened up the possibility of them having conversations with their kids. Now, when you watch them in this video, there’s, you know, there’s different segments in it. There’s mental health, there’s the technology use, there’s the bullying, there’s the cyberbullying then there’s the offender that predated her. There’s just lots of bits and pieces that someone people can can relate to and in different ways. And so those are the most outstanding pieces. And then I think after after I get home, and then I receive a message through email or through text or through one of my social media platforms. Saying thank you for sharing that story. I’m a mum too. And It really opened my eyes and it, it made me really think about how children grow up these days and how hard it is. And you’ve given me lots of tips and pointers that I can, I can talk to you with my kids. And I didn’t know that before. So those, those are the kinds of things that have stuck with me over the years.
If you were to try to encapsulate what your overarching message is to parents, specifically, when you go meet them, and when they are in contact with you about how serious an issue this is, and one that continues to grow, what is that overarching message to them?

I think the overarching message is not to be afraid of the conversation not to be afraid of learning more about the technology digital world that our children are living in presently, because it’s 2023. Because knowledge is power. And when you don’t know what’s going on, it’s hard to sit down with your child and have that conversation about online safety, or talking about sextortion or even literacy, as it is right. And so it’s gaining more knowledge. And it’s not just by going to one presentation or listening to one webinar. It’s listening to a variety of them. Because I promise you that every time you sit and listen to an expert or parent speak, you will pick up tidbits along the way new tick ets all the time. And remember, technology is ever evolving. It changes probably every 24 hours, a new app comes up new privacy setting the the like Apple and Microsoft and Samsung, they’re always coming up with new buttons on your phone. So it’s keeping up with the knowledge so that we can continue to keep up and talk with our kids about the newest trends or whatever’s out there.

Along those lines, if you had a magic wand to really address this issue head on, what would you do first?

If I had a magic wand, I would want every parent, caregiver, grandparent, law enforcement officer. Just everybody, every adult out there to sit and learn about how technology works, how the internet works, how the social media platform works, how our kids are thinking, knowing that and realizing that our children, our children and youth are faced with a world right now, that is more probably more complex than it’s ever been. And because of that, we have to be compassionate understanding when we listen to them, right. Oftentimes, our first reaction might be if our child talks to us about something that they’ve done, or they’ve seen or they’ve experienced. We give them the workforce. And we have to, I guess we have to build that relationship of trust. Because if you are going to get upset at your child, get mad at your child for doing whatever action they might have done. And we can even say I mean, there there are bloggers cyberbullying harassers out there that are kids, right. But if we judge and shame our kids, they won’t come to us and they won’t listen to us. And so it’s taking a minute to take a deep breath and, and understanding and say to your child, I’m here for you no matter what. If there’s a problem, I will help you get out of it. Because that’s our role. That’s our job as as a parent or a caregiver, right. There are so many kids that have non support and that that’s distressing because it affects overall mental health of our kids. Right. I just saw a an article that came out today that says one in seven young persons in Ottawa, have thought about suicide and one in seven Like, Oh my gosh, right? Absolutely.

It’s a striking number. And it’s, you know, I don’t even know how to react to that, because it is it is a frightening thought. But But let me ask you, you know, there going to be many parents watching and listening to this interview who are going to feel helpless, right. And you talk about living in a complex world, it’s particularly complex for for kids today, and certainly young adults and youth and teens. You’re talking about, you know, complex family structures and communication in certain families, it can be a challenge as well. The whole picture is quite daunting. So how do you suggest that parents can be proactive? When we’re talking about something that is a crime or can be considered a crime? And how to address it in their own homes?

So are we talking about criminal acts like exploitation? And sextortion? Yes. Okay. And so my my other life, when I’m not working on Amanda’s legacy, is I’m an educator in British Columbia, have been for about three, eight years, my recent portfolio as a teacher coordinator would be one on digital literacy, citizenship and online safety. And so also with my vested interest in exploitation, and sextortion. So I went on the internet, and I searched up, like sextortion, and resources. There are many, many resources online, for parents on the area on the conversation of exploitation and sextortion. And so that is probably one of my first go twos, because presentations are few and far between some too often.
Am I allowed to say out loud which one’s parents can vote? Absolutely. In Canada, if if you want to learn more about sextortion, or if your child’s being exploited online, we have you first of all, you should report it. And so you can report it to your local police agency, or cyber tips.ca. And then after that, you want resources on how to talk to your kids, just what it is. And so you can go to the Canadian child percent, Canadian Center for Child Protection. There’s Parent Resources there. You can go to TELUS wives, there’s resources there, media smarts. The RCMP also has a website of links and helpful information. And then you can go beyond Canada. And lots of times people say, Well, if it’s happening in Canada, then we should stick with Canadian resources. And I beg to differ about that one, because there’s lots of countries that are doing wonderful, great work on informing. And that includes the US, that includes Australia, that includes the UK. And so, going to cyber tips.com, which is run out of the National Center for Missing Exploited Children. There’s Parent Resources there. The FBI in December released a press kit of information. I had heard that this was the first time the FBI had released a full of like, a full thing on sextortion to their country. And they just Google FBI sextortion. And on the webpage is two sections when you scroll down, and one is what to know more about as a parent, and how to talk to your kids. What do kids need on this topic, and then there’s a whole bunch of links. It’s one of the better sites that I’ve gone to look at. Also thorne.org And that’s a organization that was established by Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, on exploitation and child sexual abuse. Now, you have to know the definition of exploitation and sextortion is child sexual abuse. It’s just it’s the different technologies used, right? technology facilitated sexual abuse. That the Homeland Security in the United States has lots and then there’s just lots and lots so when when we hear that that, oh, there’s, there’s no resources out there for us there are and with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, you can actually go on their website and you can order the information that can come in a PDF on, on how to keep your child safe online, how to keep your teenager safe online safety tips for online and then exploitation, there’s just, you know, a myriad of information. But those are the ones that I would probably say, are the best ones out there. There’s also a website called sexual exploitation education, which has a lot of good information on exploitation in itself. technology facilitated exploitation, activities, lessons resources. So those are the those are the go-tos.

The resources are out there. The numbers, though, show that these types of crimes are increasing. So according to Statistics Canada, there was a more than a 30% increase in 2020, over 2019. Cyber tip, the National tip line also saw an increase in 2021, over 2020 to over 2021. Are we moving in the right direction, in your estimation?

Well, 10 years ago, 10 and a half years ago, when Amanda died, and we found out that she had been exploited online. But the conversations were few and far between we were focused on cyber bullying, back then. Not on online exploitation as what happened to Amanda. And so my, my thinking that my fear is that everyone thought it was a one off it was it was a fairly new word that was presented in our lives. More recently, and I guess with COVID, with everyone on remotely and kids were not going to school, they were on their devices. And oftentimes, it was the only way that they could communicate and and have a, I guess, a social life, right remotely. So apps with with chat platforms you would meet, they would meet new people that they soon called friends, even though they didn’t meet them. It sort of immediate smarts, which is another resource. It said that 68% of kids have friended and are talking to people they’ve never met online. Now that’s 68 Out of every 100. That’s a huge number of kids that are just randomly chatting. And so also the the amount of scams and phishing, pH I sh ing things that have come up online, have increased not only to kids, but also to young adults, older adults, seniors, and that there’s a financial end to that, right. And so when you go to cyber chips, and you see sextortion up there, and there’s that huge 150% increase, the increase could be due to people are reporting it more, or there’s just an overall increase. Now it’s extortion with boys is, is typically financial sextortion 75 Out of every 100 cases reported to cyber tips recently have to do with boys and 25% have to do with girls and with girls. It’s the request for additional images and videos. Right. Now, financial sextortion is usually run by rings of offenders out of could be Canada or other countries. And so I liken it to an Amway sort of thing where the offenders get other people involved. And it becomes lucrative because online, there’s a million, it’s like the ocean, there’s a million fish out there. And if one falls off the hook, they go and they find another one. And so these predators are preying on our children. And there’s lots and lots of children out there that are available to them. And it can start on a a simple gaming platform where, you know, you see a young person just type right, I’m so mad at my mom or and then that is that is the hook for them and so on Um, the offender will oftentimes have an alias of, you know, a same age peer, and just strike up a conversation. And our kids are, are just open to talking to people, because they’ve learned that this is the way that they can broaden their horizons. And so it’s kind of cool to say, Oh, I was just talking to someone in Australia. But really behind the screen, you don’t know. What kind of person is behind that screen? Is it? Is it someone your age? Or is it someone who’s 40 years older? Is that a male is a female? We don’t know. And so those are some of the perils out there that we have to talk to our kids about, right? Don’t give private information away. Kids are so easily. Predators are smart, right? And it’s like, what’s your name? Like? Do you play sports? What’s what’s color? Is your is your soccer jersey? Where do you play, right? And kids are so forthcoming in that information, that it’s not hard to put it together, and then go searching on the internet, once you find a general location. And then, and then these, as I saw in Amanda’s trial with her predator, yet files and files, so you’d file of Amanda, and then inside that file, were sub files of her friends inside that those sub files were friends of friends. And so information out there is so easily had and found. And that’s why we have to be more cognizant of privacy and oversharing. And who we talk to, and not to get sucked down that rabbit hole is so easy to be it definitely is.

Well, it’s to have conversations with your kids about and maybe not, when you’re having the conversations with your kids don’t like direct your questions. Don’t focus them on on your kid, like, what are you doing online? Maybe talk about it in parameters of what are what are all kids doing online or someone at work just you know, had a conversation, they’re really worried about their, their own child and what what they’re doing online? So could you Could you fill me in on some stuff so that I can have a conversation with this other mom, kids are helpful, they want to help and give you information. But maybe through that method, you can find out what your own child knows about online safety, right. And because it becomes it becomes all about online safety and what you can do to better protect yourself. Because it’s just like as parenting. When our kids are little we we go to the playground and we scope it out. Make sure that the playground is safe like that, that all the screws are in there’s no glass on the on the on the ground, right where they’re playing, we look around for to see if there’s even strange people, people that don’t belong in the park. We have to do that in the tech world, in the digital world for our kids. And then we have to teach our kids how to look themselves how to because our kids aren’t always under our our eyeballs, right? We can’t always be watching them. So we have to give them the digital toolkit on how they can stay safe or another another way that I talk to kids is if if you are listening to a presentation, taking that information, not just for yourself, but if you have younger siblings, or younger cousins, or if you have grandparents or elders that you want to protect online, maybe take this information so you can share it with them and protect them. Right. And so what you’re doing is you’re empowering them but you’re not doing it just focused on them because kids don’t like to be the focus of anything right I’m. So I found that that’s, that’s a good strategy to use. In talking to our kids, it’s about conversation. It’s about trust. And it’s about learning about what you need to talk to about with your kids. Right? And that’s where all those websites come in. And, and even YouTube has great video clips on exploitation sextortion manipulation. There’s, there’s, Google has a great interactive game for online safety for elementary aged kids, right. And then it’s not letting your kids just do it on their own. It’s sitting with them, and doing it with them. So you can have that conversation. Kids may roll their eyeballs at you, but this is a safety thing. Like, I was just looking at an article, a research article, and there’s safety on the internet, per se, we can’t, the social media platforms aren’t really doing it for us. And we have to, unfortunately, do it for ourselves until they put in more more tools and take the initiative to make sure that kids are where they’re supposed to be in the online world, right. And so because the onus is on the adult, right now, we have to make sure that we can properly talk to our kids about what’s going on in that world. And the school system is working on it. Our school system, it becomes a village, right? It’s not only on the parents, it’s on the school systems, it’s on community. It’s very circular in who should be providing that information. So if we all work together, our kids will understand that it’s not just mom and dad, harping at me, and telling me, it’s everybody. So maybe this is serious, right? Have a digital toolkit and start putting things in it.

In March of 2023, the BC government introduced proposed legislation called the intimate images Protection Act, which aims to stop the sharing of intimate images online, and certainly help to protect the victims with compensation, etc. Does this proposed legislation go far enough in your view?

This proposed legislation is a is a really good start. Now, I understand that BC, there’s six other provinces who already have something in place. And so British Columbia looked at all the different legislation and acts in the different provinces and pulled together their voters. It got tabled, it was a very emotional moment, watching it get tabled in the legislature last week. I am glad that my province of British Columbia has, has created this protection act because I think it will be helpful. I think that it had been around 10 and a half years ago, or in 2010, when Amanda’s image was shared out there. And we could have gotten take, we could have gotten taken down. The bullying and the cyberbullying might not have happened with Amanda’s peers to her in judging and shaming her. As with everything, we have to be the overseers to make sure that our governments make it work. Right. It was only tabled. So first reading will be hopefully in a few weeks. And hopefully it’ll pass by the time the legislature and in the middle of May. And then we’ll hear more about the precise inaction. Right? How are they going to get police involved? Will there be additional training? How are they going to roll it out for information in the school system? How are we going to get it to the kids? What are we going to share with our parents? And how long will this take? And my big question is, if the perpetrator is overseas, how is that going to work? Like well, can a government get the social media platforms to take it down? Because if you don’t know who the person is, then you obviously can’t report put it on the application form to say, John Smith did this and he needs to take it down. So there’s a lot of questions in my mind that that erupted. I’m also interested to see what other provinces have done and how successful they’ve been. Pei new brands His work, Manitoba, Alberta. They all have protection acts in place, and have been since 2017 2018 2019.

Finally, Carol, I’d like to ask you what gives you hope through your lived experience, everything you’ve been through it really paying the ultimate price with respect to the story, what gives you hope as you look to the future?

What gives me hope is when I look back 10 and a half years ago, after Amanda died, and I see I saw what wasn’t out there. And now I see what is out there. And I I know that when we see the increase in numbers of victims, or of bad actors out there using technology as a weapon, not a good tool. It’s scary. But when you hear protection acts when you see media organization sites, reporting on this topic, just to get the awareness out, when you see organizations put the resources out for parents to learn more about it. That gives me hope. Right. I will, I will and sharing Amanda’s story puts the story out there so that hopefully, a parent will say that’s such a sad story, but I need to learn more about what happened to this child. That gives me hope.

Carol Todd, thank you so much for your time today.
Thank you for having me.

Carol lost her youngest child to suicide in 2012. Amanda was just 15 years old when she took her life in the family’s home. She was the victim of sextortion and cyberbullying, relentlessly tormented by an online predator for years.

“She might have just become a statistic in the mental health sphere of conversation,” Carol Todd told Lianne Castelino during an interview for Where Parents Talk. “But because she [Amanda] left her story behind visually, we can continue to watch it, learn about it, and more importantly, talk about it.”

And that is precisely what Carol Todd has devoted her life to — continuing the conversation her daughter started, speaking to parents, students, and young people alike —- educating individuals and families on the realities, hidden dangers and consequences of the digital world.

“After I’ve presented or, or spoken on stage, others come up to me and they share their story,” Todd told Lianne Castelino during an interview for Where Parents Talk. “It released them to be able to talk about any abuses or online abuses that happened to them.”

Amanda Todd.photo

Courtesy: Amanda Todd Legacy Society.
Amanda Todd died by suicide in October 2012,
as a result of cyberabuse.

Young Amanda shared her story through a video she recorded just over a month before her death in 2012. The video captured international attention then and since, having been watched more than 50 million times.

“It was a note to everyone,” says Carol from her home in Port Coquitlam, BC. “It was Amanda sharing her story because she wanted her peer-based cyber abusers to know that she wasn’t afraid of them.”

Amanda’s voice lives on through the Amanda Todd Legacy Society — a non profit organization founded by her mom Carol, whose mission is “to help youth and beyond with the availability of resources and assistance for anti-bullying, mental health and internet safety.”

A lifelong teacher for more than 35 years, Carol is deeply committed to educating parents and caregivers about the online world.

“I think the overarching message is not to be afraid of the conversation, not to be afraid of learning more about the technology, digital world that our children are living in presently, because it’s 2023,” she says. “Because knowledge is power., and when you don’t know what’s going on, it’s hard to sit down with your child and have that conversation about online safety, or talking about sextortion or even literacy.”

According to Statistics Canada, there was a more than 30 per cent increase in police-reported cyber crime in 2020, than the previous year. And the national tipline cybertip.ca reported a sharp increase in 2022 versus 2021.

During her interview with Where Parents Talk, Carol Todd discusses:

  • How parents can be proactive about digital literacy
  • Trusted resources to learn more about cyberabuse, sextortion, cyberbullying
  • What more can and should be done to bolster online safety
  • How to approach conversations with kids about digital awareness and safety
  • The Intimate Images Protection Act – proposed legislation in British Columbia

Related stories:

Staying safe Online and on Social Media: Paul Davis

Dr. Devorah Heitner on Parenting in a Digital World

How Social Media and Digital Technology Impacts Kids

Related links:


Canadian Centre for Child Protection




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