Sex-pic sadists hit kids

Sextortion is a new global online crime that has South African sexual predators targeting increasingly younger victims.

The Johannesburg man – who was released on R1000 bail in February – is due in court again this month.

The man allegedly hacked into the 16-year-old’s phone via Facebook and stole five pictures of her naked from her phone.

The theft was discovered when the accused – who had taken over the girl’s Facebook account and changed her password – contacted her when she could not access her account.

He then allegedly sent her WhatsApp messages in which he ordered her to take sexually explicit photographs of herself and send them to him. He sent her pictures of other naked teenage girls to prove his seriousness.

The girl’s mother, who cannot be named, said her daughter took the pictures while dealing with a weight problem.

“She took the photos to see where she could lose weight. If only I had known I would never have allowed her to take the photos with her cellphone.”

The family is not alone in its nightmare.

Twenty Pretoria high school boys were last year similarly exploited. Social media lawyers report victims as young as nine years old.

A study released on Wednesday by the Brookings Institution, a US think-tank, reveals that sexploitation is a growing problem targeting increasingly younger victims. Demands are not made for money but for sexually explicit photographs.

The institute says sextortion is common – and South African cybercrime, and social media and technology experts, agree.

Danny Myburgh of Cyanre, the computer forensic lab whose company helped track the alleged exploiter of the schoolboys, said sextortion in South Africa was on the increase.

“Perpetrators harvest victims’ Facebook and social media profiles, threatening to disseminate the images to friends if more explicit images are not sent to them.”

Social media lawyer Emma Sadleir said: “One of the youngest victims I dealt with was only nine.

“Adults are usually targeted out of revenge by former lovers or in a divorce. Sexting has become a societal norm, which makes people even more vulnerable,” she said.

Online social media expert Arthur Goldstuck of World Wide Worx said: “This crime is highly under-reported. It occurs because people, especially children, are ignorant of the dangers of engaging with strangers in the digital world.

“This is a predator’s playground.”

The study shows individual predators, usually men, can have hundreds of victims from whom they extort thousands of images.

The institute looked at 78 cases in the US and three other countries.

The perpetrators are believed to have targeted up to 6500 people across the world.

The study cites a US investigation in which investigators found 15000 webcam-video captures, 900 audio recordings and 13000 screen captures on a man’s computers.

The report shows that, of cases studied:

  • 71% involved only victims under the age of 18;
  • 14% involved minors and adults;
  • 12% involved only adults, mostly women;
  • 21% involved victims in other countries;
  • Social media manipulation is used in 91% of cases involving minors; and
  • Computer hacking is used in 43% of cases involving adults.

“Sextortion is a form of sexual exploitation, coercion, and violence, often of children.

“The perpetrators seem to take pleasure in victims’ pleading and protests. [Frequently] victims contemplate, threaten, or even attempt suicide – sometimes to the pleasure of their tormentors.”