Sexting, Revenge Porn, Sextortion and Images of Child Sexual Abuse Material

What Can I Do About It?

Having conducted countless online safety presentations over the years, fewer topics draw greater angst than the topic of sexting. Sexting is a popular term used to describe the sending and receiving of sexually explicit images via text messages, apps, and email. This risky behaviour has grown in popularity amongst young people, and the consequences  of sexting creates an abundance of problems for adults and young people who are often left feeling powerless and anxious. Taking nude and semi-nude photographs and videos often leads to problems because these images are viewed by unintended recipients, shared without consent or used for blackmail and coercion. When this occurs it if often called sextortion or revenge porn. In many cases involving sexting,  there is associated criminal activity such as threats, cyberstalking and criminal harassment. Any criminality should be reported to police, as they are able to conduct criminal investigations and offer advice about crime prevention.

Firstly, when it comes to sexting, parents often experience fear and worry about their child who might be experiencing bullying in the classroom, and arguments and problems with friendships. Children might want to change schools and this uproots the family as they try to start over in a new situation. Parents are often frustrated, not knowing where to find help, whether to report their situation to police, to the school administration or to someplace else. Parents, siblings and families clearly feel stress and anxiety knowing that members of their family have their nude and semi-nude images being circulated and viewed by others. It’s a wakeup call for parents and guardians and they are often shaken by this new reality.

The Criminal Code of Canada (CCC), states that it is illegal to communicate online for a sexual purpose with a person that is under the age of 18. When images of children under the age of 18 are circulated online, these are identified as images of child sexual abuse material (CSAM). Even though law enforcement is experiencing many challenge dealing with increased volumes of all forms of cybercrime, they commit officers from their department to dedicated teams in each province of Canada, to investigate cases of Internet Child Exploitation (ICE). These specialized teams represent municipal and federal policing, and have unique knowledge, tools and high-level training for the investigating online sexual exploitation of minors and images of child sexual abuse material.

The CCC also states it is illegal to distribute an intimate image without consent online of a person of any age. To help understand this law, the CCC further defines what an intimate image is and explains that it depicts a person engaged in explicit sexual activity or would include a sexual organ, anal region or breast. This intimate image would have been taken when there was a reasonable expectation of privacy. These situations are also called sextortion and revenge porn, and the sexual exploitation and coercion commonly involves criminal harassment, threats, and blackmail. All of these offences are illegal in Canada.

When criminals incidents occur, a victim should always start by contacting their local police service. This may be with a telephone call to a non-emergency number or, by attending a police office. A uniformed officer will typically be the first point of contact for a victim. The officer will take a victim impact statement and a witness statement from anyone and everyone involved. The police should then provide a police case number which will be helpful for followup purposes. Police may also offer proactive advice to help mitigate further harm to those involved. In most cases, the initial police report will be forwarded internally to other officers that might investigate a crime that that falls within their purview. This might involve a specialized unit or a team trained in child abuse investigation or fraud for example. In other cases, a file may be investigated by a cyber support team or a unit with a particular speciality in cybercrime. In particular, if the crime involves a child, it will be forwarded to an ICE unit because it falls within their mandate or is connected to a case they are working on.

Sometimes victims are hesitant to report Internet abuse, OSEC, or predatory behaviour because they are embarrassed or they do not want to draw attention to their child or family member. It is particularly important that law enforcement be involved in most cases, and that they are informed of ongoing activity involving a victim. Police especially should be notified if a young person is being blackmailed, threatened into sharing additional images or pressured to meet with in the real world. 

Everyone involved in these sensitive incidents  need a prompt and effective approach to help reduce harm. The following information may be helpful for anyone dealing with sexting, sextortion, revenge porn or predatory online sexual abuse:

Collect Findings: Collect screenshots of offending images and document the time, dates, URL’s of when they were viewed. Document and collect links, emails, IM’s and anything related to the dissemination and posting of offending image(s).

Get Support: Ask for help from a school principal, counsellor, teacher, school board, superintendent, coach, school resource officer, website involved, Internet Service Provider, or a civil lawyer.

Report: Contact police to report criminality and to complete a victim impact or witness statement. Record the police case number. Forward this police case number to any website or any organization that you have reported the incident to. 

Reduce Your Digital Footprint: Cyber criminals will exploit connections or use the victim’s friends list to extort more photos or money from victims. Deactivate or delete social media accounts even temporarily. 

Change Your Passwords: Change or reset passwords to email, social media, texting platforms, and passcodes to mobile devices. Consider changing or fortifying wireless network codes. Ensure that two-factor authentication (2FA) and multi-factor authentication (MFA) is turned on with every website and platform. When a person splits with a significant other, regardless of it being friendly breakup, immediately change all passwords including to a WiFi network.

Request Removal: Request that the offending image(s) be immediately removed from any website that violates your personal privacy and their terms of use causing personal/professional harm. Search online for a DMCA Takedown Notice.

Conduct a Scan: Have all devices scanned for spyware. This may include listening devices, apps or any IoT devices that scan locations, monitor contacts, or collect photos.

Seek Help: Visit websites like which helps victims gather information, resources and tools to help remove sexualized images and videos from the Internet. Law enforcement works closely with other organizations to remove child sexual abuse material (CSAM) from the Internet. 

Organize a Presentation: Speak to someone at your child’s school to invite an expert like Kathy Macdonald into the school to speak to students, teachers or parent council. Kathy has been doing presentations in school for decades and the following testimonial speaks volumes about the benefits and services that Kathy offers in her presentations:

“Calgary Academy has had the pleasure of having Kathy present to our students and parents on more than one occasion and her expertise and knowledge in such an important area as cyber security and social media safety is paramount.  I would highly recommend Kathy to present to any organization regarding this topic as issues regarding the internet are only becoming more problematic and will continue to be so.  We plan to have Kathy back as technology continues to advance and we can take a proactive approach to security rather than a responsive one which is often too late.”

Sarah Hoag, Director of Stakeholder Engagement at Calgary Academy

“On behalf of Tsuut’ina Nation Police Service Youth Services Section we would like to offer a BIG thank you for your presentation, ‘ A Focus on Cyberbullying, Awareness, Prevention, and Response’. The content shared was very informative and we appreciate you sharing your extensive experience in developing and delivering cyber awareness and crime prevention. The cyber-awareness and prevention amongst online fraud and social engineering is pertinent to our day to day lives and the tips you provided are steps we all can utilize in staying safe in the cyber world. Thus including the resources provided are very useful and a strong reminder to being mindful of where we are plugging in our personal emails and the implications of cyber breaches.” 

Summer Big Smoke, BSW RSW, Youth Outreach Worker, Youth Services Section Tsuut’ina Nation Police Service