Sextortion, suicide, and the fight to protect our kids
CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - A mother and father were robbed of their only child.
“We did everything that people tell people as great parents should do. We kept our son out of drugs, off the streets out of alcohol, active in school,” expressed Tamia Woods, James’ mother.
17-year-old James Woods was a track star at Streetsboro High School. The victim of sextortion. The teen took his life just days before Thanksgiving, after who he thought was a 19-year-old woman started messaging him on Instagram.
“And we still lost our son, that’s not fair. It’s not fair,” explained Woods.
“She asked him do you want to see my boobs and my private part? James being 17 and curious said yes. So she called him on video call and she showed him and she said now show me yours, and he did and she screenshot that picture of his private area with his face. And then things turned for the worse,” described Woods.
James’ mother Tamia says in less than 24 hours her son received more than 2 hundred text messages, and dozens of calls from what she believes were a group of people, saying they were going to ruin his life if he didn’t pay them thousands of dollars.
“I miss my baby. I miss his touch. I miss his smile,” Woods shouted.
Just last month the FBI sent out a nationwide warning about what they’re calling a “horrific increase” of sextortion cases targeting boys ages 14 to 17 years old.
" Typically the adult does so by masquerading with a fake account pretending to be someone that’s the same age as that child,” explained FBI Special Agent Preetham Rao. Rao leads the FBI’s Crimes Against Children Department. Last year law enforcement received more than 7-thousand sextortion complaints with at least 3-thousand victims.
“We believe that there are many more victims that are not coming forward because of the guilt because of the shame and because of the fear of punishment,” stated Rao.
Bay Village Police Sergeant Edward Chapman says sextortion is something the department’s been dealing with on a regular basis. Their school resource officers are now focusing on educating middle school students and warning about the dangers. But, tracking down the predators who are often overseas and prosecuting them is challenging.
“We’ll start tracking usernames for whatever social media site may be to see what we can get as far as who owns the account. Unfortunately, a lot of those end up being fake accounts and they end up using VPN’s or some type of masking IP or they don’t know who they are or where they are coming from,” described Chapman.
A Westlake mother who talked to 19 News three years ago shared her then 12-year-old daughter’s terrifying ordeal. A nightmare that lasted several months. A predator befriended her child, convincing her to send nude pictures and videos, then threatened to send them to others if she didn’t cooperate. He even wanted to meet up with her daughter. But, just days before that meeting her parents found out what was going on. Police never found him.
“To know she wasn’t safe in her own home was very sad, and it took a long time to get back to feeling safe here,” explained the mother who wanted to remain anonymous.
Now, after years of counseling her daughter’s thriving and on the road to recovery. She spoke to 19 News she says in hopes of helping others. " I felt like I fell into a trap I couldn’t escape from. I just want to spread awareness that there may be more people like that and I wouldn’t want to wish it on anyone. There are other people who might be going through the same situation,” the survivor explained.
Brandon Guffey is turning his pain into passion after his 17-year-old son Gavin took his life last July as a result of being extorted.
“It’s one thing to lose a child. It’s another thing to know that your child chose to take their life,” stated Guffey.
Guffey says his son thought he was talking to a college volleyball player, who convinced him to send nude pics. the predator threatened to release them if he didn’t pay up. He paid. But, it wasn’t enough. Guffey says the scammers even tried to extort him *after* his son’s death. saying " Did I tell you your son begged for his life!”
His fight is a mission to educate and save others. Guffey’s already filed a bill in South Carolina to make sextortion a crime with a punishment of up to 30 years in prison. He wants all states on board, including Ohio. Right now North Dakota, Kansas, Minnesota, Utah, Alabama, and Arkansas are the only states that have specific sextortion laws on the books. Depending on the case, the Justice Department uses several federal laws like child pornography and sexual exploitation laws to prosecute predators. Just this week a Ravenna man was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison. 33-year-old Andrew Drabic pleaded guilty to cyberstalking and extortion charges.
“The biggest thing I’ve tried to do is advocate. I just felt like get up off your ass. You’re in a position to make a change, and get out there and fight, expressed Guffey. Guffey’s working with the FBI and Secret Service, possible arrests could follow in Gavin’s case. James’ family is comforted by condolence cards and photos but still struggling with his loss. " I can’t explain the anger and hurt I feel, explained Tamia Woods. Woods and her husband Tim fueled by anger set up the “Do it for James” foundation in their precious son’s honor. " I need our kids to talk to us no matter how humiliating, no matter how embarrassing you may think it is. James didn’t die in vain,” expressed Woods.
To learn more about sextortion, solicitation, and enticement of a minor to engage in sexual acts:
- FBI: Stop Sextortion brochure (https://www.fbi.gov/file-repository/stop-sextortion-brochure.pdf/view)
- FBI: What is Sextortion? (https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2015/july/sextortion)
- FBI Cyber Alerts for Parents and Kids:
- Tip #1: https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/cyber-alerts-for-parents--kids-be-prudent-when-posting-images-online
- Tip #2: https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/cyber-alerts-for-parents--kids
- FBI: Violent Crimes Against Children/Online Predators – Overview and Resources: https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/violent-crime/cac
- The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children website at http://www.missingkids.org/theissues/sextortion includes data and a breakdown of its Cyber Tipline’s reports.
- Resources for Parents:
- FBI: https://www.fbi.gov/resources/parents/resources-for-parents
- NCMEC: https://www.missingkids.com/education
Sextortion Cases: fbi.gov:
- Sextortion – Online Predator Used Familiar Tactics to Victimize 12-Year-Old Girl (01/26/2018): https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/georgia-man-sentenced-in-sextortion-case
- Adjudicated sextortion case:
- In November 2018, a subject posed as a friend to a group of 12- to 15-year-old girls. Someone gave him access to the girls’ shared Snapchat account, which he hijacked by changing the login and password.
- The subject got access to the girls’ phone numbers. He demanded the victims download Kik Messenger, provide him their user names, and produce nude images and videos of themselves to regain access to their Snapchat account.
- The victims complied with the subject’s demands. He threatened to share the images with their family and friends if they did not continue to provide images and videos. The subject continued to use the Snapchat account to contact “friends” listed in the Snapchat profiles and repeated this process multiple times with additional victims.
Seeking information on recent national cases: U.S. Attorney, FBI seek identity of online sextortion victims in Louisiana (msn.com)
Prosecuted cases: Child Sextortion - Victim Information (justice.gov)
- Southern District of Indiana | Illinois Man Sentenced to 22 Years in Federal Prison for Sexual Exploitation and “Sextortion” of a 12-Year-Old Girl Via Snapchat and Omegle | United States Department of Justice
Victim Resources: The FBI’s Victim Services Division provides sextortion victims in FBI investigations with numerous services through its Child Pornography Victim Assistance program: https://www.fbi.gov/resources/victim-services/cpva
- The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children sextortion information page: http://www.missingkids.org/theissues/sextortion
Sextortion PSA: https://mmstatic.fbi.gov/media/videos/542?Signature=RH35K%2B%2Fazk%2Bf88EtFWe4HyA1%2FZ8%3D&Expires=1664046071&AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAY6PT4TTVGV6G4HZE
Sextortion victim testimonial: https://mmstatic.fbi.gov/media/videos/162?Signature=p3BbvGmFfdAgj%2BiTqaGtm5IMDwY%3D&Expires=1523463254&AWSAccessKeyId=AKIALRSPACCIE5OH7DTQ
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