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Online sextortion imperils teens

Clintonville school superintendent explains dangers

By Bert Lehman

Among the speakers that Clintonville Superintendent Troy Kuhn heard at a CESA 8 meeting were relatives of a teen who committed suicide and a police officer who responded to the case.

Clintonville Superintendent Troy Kuhn addressed the issue of sextortion.

A 17-year-old boy attending Oconto High School took his own life after becoming the victim of sextortion. S teen from Marquette, Michigan, also committed suicide after being a victim of sextortion.

Kuhn decided to talk to sixth- through 12th-grade students about the dangers of sextortion.

“I literally came home and said, ‘We don’t have time to wait for this to come to our school district. This needs to get out there now before the summer,” Kuhn told the Clintonville Tribune-Gazette. “I worked with our mental health team and we built a presentation that we thought was good for the Clintonville School District. I did share the presentation with all the middle school and high school parents the week before we did it.”

Kuhn said after parents viewed the presentation slides, they could opt their child out of the student presentation. He said a couple of parents did opt their kids out because they wanted to be the ones to present the information to them.

“Regardless or not, the parents had the tool in front of them to at least create that conversation,” Kuhn said. “It was the same presentation visually for sixth grade through 12th grade, but since I gave the presentation the meaning behind the presentation changed.”

Thinking about his own daughters is what prompted Kuhn to decide to not wait to present the information to students in the district.

“Are my two kids comfortable enough to come to me and tell me that either themselves or their friends are in trouble? Because once you go down the hole, it goes very fast,” Kuhn said. “I couldn’t 100% confidently say, ‘Yes, they would come to me.’ And if I’m saying that about my own kids, how many other parents are probably saying the same thing about their kids. And it’s really hard to talk about this stuff with parents.”

There were four presentations made to students. One to sixth graders, one to seventh graders, one to eighth graders, and one to all high school students. For sixth, seventh, and eighth graders, the presentations were based on the maturity levels of the students, and focused on what sextortion is.

“For high school, it was more geared to, you’re an adult, you need to know the right and wrong, whether it be sextortion, sex trafficking, all of this stuff,” Kuhn said. “You need to know that people are out there not trying to be your friends, but to take advantage of you.”

What is sextortion

Kuhn said his main goal is make students aware of what sextortion is.

Sextortion is when someone targets, usually teens or children, on a computer or gaming console, and convinces them to send nude or lewd photos of themselves, Kuhn said.

Once the photos are sent, the person receiving the photos use them to demand money, or they will send the photos to the child’s friends. The targets of sextortion are usually people who are seeking attention or who are not in a good place in their life.

“These people are very good at what they do,” Kuhn said. “They look at your social media profiles, gaming profiles and figure out who your friends are. They basically threaten to share these photos with your friend group, make up stories to embarrass you unless you start sending them money.”

Kuhn added that it is difficult for parents and teachers to know what is happening in the lives of teens because of social media.

“The problem is, these days, we don’t know what the kids and teens are getting into,” Kuhn said. “We don’t know if they’re in trouble or not. It’s easy to know if somebody breaks a glass, but online, we have no idea what’s happening online. So, making sure the kids know they can come to a police officer or come to the parents and say ‘Hey, this is happening to me or their kid’ and knowing they’re not going to get in trouble for it.”

Without sharing any details, Kuhn said he knows for sure that some former students in the district and some current students have been victims of sextortion. He added that after the presentation to the high school students, some students talked to teachers about the topic.

“I believe they’re taking it seriously,” Kuhn said.

Kuhn said one of his daughters recently relayed a message to him from one of her friends regarding an experience she had after the presentation.

“My daughter received a Snapchat from one of her friends that said, ‘Tell your dad that his presentation helped because I’m not 100% sure, but somebody asked me for information and I used one of his responses of, ‘I am a minor and my mother monitors my account. And they stopped Snapchatting,’” Kuhn said.

He added, “Maybe it worked, maybe it didn’t. I don’t know. But at least we know that that presentation might have mattered for one kid.”

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