Protect your children, police urge
It was police officers who were to meet two men who allegedly were seeking to have sex with girls under the age of 14, said the top cop of Greater Sudbury Police Service's cyber crime unit.
“I don't want to give up too much (of our investigative techniques), but yes, it was our officers,” Det. Sgt. Tim Burtt said. “I don't want the public to panic thinking it was young girls these two men were meeting up with, but the reality is, it could very well have been young girls in our community being lured to meet for this purpose.”
In fact, Greater Sudbury Police Service receives many calls from parents and youth who are concerned they have been contacted by someone looking to engage in sex acts, either over the Internet or at a meeting.
“It is a common occurrence, not just here, but everywhere,” Burtt said. “However, one of the benefits of us being able to get the word out to the public through use of the media, is that now we are getting complaints in relation to people being approached in chat rooms or through social programs for sexual interaction online or eventually to meet in person.”
And by youth, Burtt said he isn't talking about those in their late teens or early 20s — he's talking about children sometimes as young as 10, 11 or 12 years of age. While he wasn't able to put an exact number on how many Internet luring investigations the cyber crime unit has handled over the years, Burtt said police have laid charges in six of the 19 investigations since the start of the year, four of them happening within in the last month and a half.
“I don't want to say there is a steady stream, but there have been investigations of Internet luring every month, although it's sporadic sometimes,” he said. “It can be anything from someone inviting a youth to do something over a webcam to an invitation to meet to have sex. There are all kinds of components, and it doesn't have to necessarily result in a meeting — it's an act that is committed over the computer with the Internet to do something sexual.”
It is a common occurrence, not just here, but everywhere.
Det. Sgt. Tim Burtt,
Cyber crime unit
The age of consent today is 16, he said. While many of the calls to police involved people under that age who have been approached for sex, officers also deal with complaints by people over the age of 16, who are being “sex-torted,” Burtt said.
“I hate to use that term, but that's essentially what it is,” he said. “They have their accounts hacked or taken over, and they are extorted for sexual purposes.”
It's a sad thing, but it happens, he said. A youth believes they are chatting with perhaps a friend of a friend, and the next thing they know, it's a person who is trying to get them to send nude photos of themselves.
“And they do, unfortunately, and they end up all over the Internet or even being sent to a family.”
That's why police encourage parents to be careful and open with their kids. Top priority when youth log onto the Wold Wide Web is knowing where they are surfing, who they are chatting with, and even having the computer in an open area where a parent is able to monitor what is happening.
“I believe in privacy and trusting our children, but you have to be very careful of giving them a webcam and other devices capable of transmitting and allowing them to be in the privacy of their own bedrooms, especially in cases of younger children,” he said.
It's no different than a youth going to the park or to the mall – parents want to know where they are going and with whom they are going. It's the same thing with the Internet, “only the Internet is scarier, because they can end up anywhere in the world.”
Internet luring investigations can take days, weeks or even months, depending on the person being investigated, Burtt said. Once police become aware of a potential Internet luring attempt, they first have to verify if an offence has been committed. Once that is confirmed, police try to identify the suspect and go from there.
“Every situation is different and it's difficult to say what we would do with every single investigation,” he said. “We'll look at it and assess it and go from there.”
For those caught in an Internet luring investigation, Burtt said the courts aren't taking these cases lightly. Jail time, if convicted, could be anywhere from 30 days to two years, dependent on the case, and it comes with a laundry list of restrictions such as not being able to possess electronic devices or attending public places.
“Not being able to have a computer or a cellphone is very constricting in today's society, and it will have a huge impact on your life, even employment if you're not able to use a computer in the workplace.”