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The word “luring” conjures up every parent’s worst nightmare: Their children are enticed by a predator they met online to leave the house and meet up with them in person.
But Det. Leigh Happner with ALERT’s Internet Child Exploitation (ICE) Unit says that, when laying charges in an investigation, the definition of “luring” is quite a bit broader.
“The suspect — who doesn’t necessarily have to be an adult; it can be someone under the age of 18 — has to use some kind of telecommunication device — a phone, a computer, whatever — to communicate with someone they know or believe to be under 18, and they’re trying to facilitate a secondary offence occurring,” she said.
“That secondary offence doesn’t necessarily have to have occurred; for instance, if a suspect is speaking with a child under the age of 18 and asks them for a nude photo, they’re luring to try to facilitate the making of child pornography.
“Regardless of whether or not the child sends the image, the offence of luring has occurred.”
According to the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, their Cybertip reporting service has averaged about 300 confirmed reports of luring attempts per year over the past two years. “Many of these reports are submitted by teens themselves who have gotten in over their heads,” said associate executive director Signy Arnason.
Happner said that she has seen the number of files that include luring that cross her desk decrease slightly in recent years, though she’s not certain if that means kids are getting wiser about online safety or if they are going unreported.
“I don’t think it’s not occurring,” she said. “We get files where the suspect will try, and the kid will shut them down and say, ‘No, I’m not sending you any nude photos.’ The kid has done the right thing. Yes, it’s technically luring, but if it was reported, then we’d have to evaluate our caseload to determine if we’re actually going to action that file.”
But ALERT’s integrated approach to law enforcement allows ICE investigators to work on such files more thoroughly, liaising with local, national and even international partner agencies to track down suspects and other victims.
“Quite often, what we do find with luring is, when we end up arresting somebody, that person who came forward is not the only victim. If it’s a true luring investigation, we often find that the suspect has multiple victims. But we just need one person to bring it forward to us so that we can uncover all the rest of the victims and the true scope of what that person has been up to,” Happner said.
“It’s really important to liaise with other law enforcement agencies at all levels. With any ICE file, we have a strong network of investigators; everybody kind of knows everybody. And we liaise with them at different points. Sometimes it’s because a victim has come forward here and the suspect is in another country, so we contact them and send them the information. Or the victims may be somewhere else, so we need to law information in that jurisdiction involved to get in contact with a victim and get their statement.”
With the rise of live-streaming platforms, the Canadian Centre for Child Protection is worried about how easily predators have access to potential victims in real time, and thus has focused much of its messaging recently to helping parents keep kids safe on these apps. “The risks are amplified with live streaming given that youth often don’t consider that the person on the other side could be recording their live stream, which is then shared with other offenders, and sometimes used to extort more images or money from the teen/tween,” Arnason said. “It is the immediate direct access that adults have to children that is incredibly problematic.”
In any case, Happner says that knowledge of their kids’ online activity is the best measure parents have to prevent their kids from becoming the victim of luring.
“Parents need to know their kids’ passwords and who their kids are talking to online. It’s important that kids only speak online with people they also know in person,” Happner said. “From a parental standpoint, they should be monitoring their kids’ online activities, whether it be limiting the duration they’re allowed on the devices, or physically checking through the apps, or even going as far as installing parental monitoring software. It’s super important that parents monitor, and communicate with their kids so that, if it does happen, a child feels that they can disclose it to their parents without being grounded.”