The Short of It
The FBI is urging hundreds of child victims of an online predator and their parents to come forward in a massive sextortion case.
According to an FBI video, sextortion is when "someone threatens to distribute your private and sensitive material if you don't provide them images of a sexual nature, sexual favors or money. The perpetrator may also threaten to harm your friends or relatives by using information they've obtained from your electronic devices, unless you comply with their demands."
FBI agents are investigating one of the United States' largest sextortion cases involving young girls and searching for unidentified victims of 26-year-old Lucas Michael Chansler, who last year pled guilty to multiple counts of child pornography production. Although he's now in prison for 105 years, Chansler victimized nearly 350 teenage girls online by making them send him 80,000 inappropriate images before he was caught. According to Special Agent Larry Meyer, a veteran agent in the FBI's Jacksonville Division who investigates crimes against children, only 109 of Chansler's victims have been identified and contacted so far, leaving approximately 250 teens, "who have not had closure and who probably haven't obtained counseling and other help they might need."
Chansler used multiple personas, created dozens of fake screen names, and often posed as an attractive 15-year-old skateboarder to troll popular online hangouts and strike up relationships with teenage girls from 26 U.S. states, Canada, and the United Kingdom. In sextortion cases like Chansler's, the perpetrator convinces the victims to send relatively benign messages and images at first, but then eventually convinces the children to send increasingly sexual ones. The girls often are blackmailed into sending even more explicit images when the perpetrator threatens to reveal her embarassing behavior to family and friends if she doesn't. Perpetrators can even obtain home addresses embedded in photos that are sent, which they can use to further threaten their targets. Victims feel trapped and can experience depression and declining grades. Some of Chansler's victims dropped out of school or tried to end their lives.
Chansler was arrested after some of his victims started coming forward. One of them is Ashley Reynolds, who became one of Chansler's victims in 2008 when she was 14 years old. After being harassed by Chansler for months, her mother discovered the photos she had been blackmailed into sending him on her computer. Ashley's mother contacted the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children's (NCMEC) CyberTipline, where an analyst was able to tie one of the screen names used to sextort Ashley to another case in a different state and realized the predator most likely had multiple victims. Eventually, FBI and NCMEC analysts were able to locate an Internet account in Florida where the threats were originating, leading to Chansler's eventual arrest.
Meyer and the Jacksonville Crimes Against Children Task Force analyzed the images of the girls they found in Chansler's possession to identify and locate them. More than 250 investigators, analysts, victim specialists, child forensic interviewers, and community child advocacy centers were involved in locating and interviewing the known victims.
Ashley, now 20, is doing what she can to get the word out about sextortion so that all of Chansler's victims can be identified and other girls don't make the mistakes that she made. "This ended for me," she said, but for many of Chansler's victims, "this never ended for them."
As more minors have access to cell phones and Internet-connected devices, child predators have a new world in which to target kids. Parents must be viligant to protect their kids online, knowing their social media passwords, checking their search histories, and installing parental control software. Kids may be upset at what they perceive as a violation of their privacy, but an annoyed kid who is safe is better than an exploited one. If anyone has already been a victim of a sexplotation crime, they should come forward, so they can receive the counseling they need and help put away a predator before he harms another child.
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