Angela Reynolds’s daughter Ashley was a high school freshman in 2009 when a stranger calling himself “Captain Obvious,” with a profile that made it look like he was a teenager, messaged her through social media. He claimed to to have nude pictures of her.
Ashley ignored him at first, but he became more insistent, threatening to show her friends the pictures. Ashley had never sent nude pictures of herself to anyone, but the Glendale, Arizona, teen began to worry that “Captain Obvious” had been able to somehow access pictures of her changing in her room through her webcam. She finally gave in.
“He wanted seven pictures of me, and said once I finished giving him his request, he’d leave me alone,” Ashley wrote in a testimonial for Thorn, an organization that works to protect children online. “Being so naive at the time, I surrendered and did what I had to do in attempt to never hear from this guy again.”
But that wasn’t the end of it. “I was taking pictures for him every night. It was my new normal. What began with seven pictures turned into a list of over 60 pictures. Every night,” wrote Ashley. “These pictures were categorized. Different poses, different positions, different things he wanted me to do to myself. My innocence had been completely stolen from me. My dignity; every bit of respect I had for myself. I felt disgusting and ashamed.”
Months went by, but then Ashley’s parents checked her MySpace account and realized what was happening to their daughter. They confronted her and began to seek help from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the FBI. Though “Captain Obvious” continued to harass Ashley and did send nude pictures of her to her friends, the FBI finally caught Lucas Michael Chansler, aka “Captain Obvious,” in 2010. He was a 27-year-old man in Florida who had been doing the same thing to hundreds of other girls and had more than 80,000 images of them on his computer. He was sentenced to 105 years in prison.
There’s a name to his crime: sextortion. Because of the shame and fear involved with the abuse, it often stays a secret. Victims, afraid of humiliation or physical harm, suffer in silence, and sometimes resort to self-harm or even suicide. Teenage girls are the most common target of sextortion, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Once your child is online or has a hand-held device, there are six things experts say you need to do to help protect them:
1. Think about how and where your child will get online.
“It’s one thing for a child to have access to a device like a computer in the family room, another for them to actually hold a device in their hands,” said Cordua. Children online behind closed doors might be more vulnerable than those who play on computers in high-traffic areas of the house where more eyes will be able to see their screens, she said.
– Allison Slater Tate