Sextortion is deadly.
Cyber crimes committed by faceless keyboard predators are having fatal and traumatic consequences in the south-west.
Police said one south-west teenager was told to pay $1000 or the sexual images he'd been groomed to send would be publicly released. He took his own life.
Warrnambool police youth resource officer Leading Senior Constable John Keats said sextortion had "horrendous consequences" for the young man and his family and friends.
He revealed the case as the region experiences a "pandemic of cyber safety issues". He says there's a surge in online bullying, children as young as 10 sending intimate photos and teenagers and adults getting caught up in sextortion.
"We have a pandemic of cyber safety issues," Leading Senior Constable Keats said.
"It's massive. We're seeing a big surge in it. Certainly bullying behaviour, sending of nudes, intimate photos, and we're seeing sextortion which is happening big time now and it's not only to young people but older people too."
Sextortion is a form of online blackmail where victims are coerced into sending sexual images, then threatened to have them shared, unless demands are met.
"It's had horrendous consequences," Leading Senior Constable Keats said. "We have seen young people take their own life over this because they don't feel they can talk to people. That's happened to a boy in the Western District. Young people are taking their life because they think it's too embarrassing to talk about."
He said a woman had groomed the teen and the pair exchanged intimate photos before he realised the woman lived in the US and wasn't who she said she was. "That whole scenario is being reported to police here on a regular basis," he said.
He and fellow youth resource officer Leading Senior Constable Brooke Pollock said it was a serious and concerning trend.
"The conversation becomes sexual, there's a grooming period and then usually intimate photos are exchanged," Leading Senior Constable Pollock said.
"Once that photo has been obtained by the offender then that's when the extortion starts, whether that's $500, $1000, credit card details, Visa or gift cards. These people work for gangs and it's a money-making business then."
They said despite feeling shame and embarrassment of sharing intimate photos and getting sucked into a scam, victims needed support. "Let them know they can talk to you and that if this does happen to them, it's not their fault and it's nothing to feel embarrassed about," she said.
"It might be one or two photos but there's nothing so bad you can't talk to someone about it. If it's not your parent you need to find that trusted person in your world that you can tell something to."
They said police were committed to investigating and holding offenders to account urging anyone with sextortion, online bullying or cyber concerns to contact them.
"We can give parents and kids advice, we're happy to do that," he said.
"They can speak to us at anytime. We need their help because we can't keep up with it. It's never going to go away but we need their help."
He said when he began the role in 2016 people aged 16 and up were sending nude or intimate images, "but now it's grades threes and fours - 10-year-olds".
"People don't realise this," he said. "They might be on a game and you've got this predator who lies and says 'hello, I'm Alby and I'm 12'. They groom this young person. It's horrendous. This is happening everywhere. Don't think Warrnambool and the Western District is immune. It's everywhere."
"It's horrendous. This is happening everywhere. Don't think Warrnambool is immune.- John Keats
Unwittingly, children and teens post online about plans to go to footy or netball training or ride to school which is there for anyone to see and take advantage of.
"These people that are doing this, that's all they do," she said.
"They sit on the internet all day, every day to find that one person they can grab. They think 'I'll play this game with this child, I'll groom them, I've got them now, I've got a picture to hold against them."
The officers said cyber bullying was a huge issue at schools with young girls the "biggest bullies online".
They said it ranged from girls telling their female peers to self-harm, body shaming them, exclusion and hateful, cruel comments.
"The problem we're seeing now is the courts are being inundated with people seeking intervention orders, young people seeking personal safety orders, and that's not what the intervention process is about," he said.
Victoria's anti-bullying legislation, known as Brodie's Law, began in June 2011, making serious bullying a crime punishable by up to 10 years in jail.
Brodie's Law was introduced after Brodie Panlock, 19, who was subjected to relentless workplace bullying, took her own life. In 2018 Amy "Dolly" Everett took her own life, aged 14, after ongoing bullying.
Leading Senior Constable Keats said real-life, high-profile national cases highlighted the devastating consequences of bullying on young lives.
"The biggest problem is we just don't know how that person is going to react, as is the case with those people who have taken their own life, because we don't want to see that," he said.
"No one wants to see that and then the flow-on effect to their family friends and community.
"As we've seen with Dolly and Brodie we don't know what that person is going to do.
Are you going to risk that? Are you going to risk your future and risk the future of other people because you're not respecting others?
"We're not immune. People think it's going to happen to someone else, like a bad motor collision, people think 'it's not going to happen to me', but it does happen.
"Every young person will have some type of bad experience in the cyber world, whether it's bullying, whether it's creditors, someone trying to scam them so they need to be ready."
He likened posting online to opening your front door to a "complete stranger off the street", and inviting them into their bedroom, showing them your diary and collecting photos, because "that's effectively what you're doing when you go online".
Leading Senior Constable Keats said every school had cyber safety issues and were calling police to do sessions.
He said parents "needed to stand up, take control and set rules in place".
"Schools are crying out for help," he said.
"Schools are under siege. Not only from cyber safety issues but from parents' inaction. Parents are the missing link. We back the schools 100 per cent. They're doing as much as they can."
He said parents and guardians purchased devices for children and provided internet access and needed to be more accountable.
"Know what apps your child is downloading, know the privacy settings, go through them together so they both take ownership of it so it's not just left up to the young person," she said.
"It's up to you to take control of the cyber world because it's controlling people, not only kids but adults as an addiction."
They said the rise in issues were due to the pandemic when "there was so much more time to be online".
The officers teach a CYBER acronym, likening it to a "seat belt to keep you safe online", urging parents to be familiar with it too.
Anyone who needs help can phone Lifeline 131 114 or Kids Helpline 1800 551 800.
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