Maricopa County’s top prosecutor is sounding the alarm about online exploitation of unsuspecting minors.
Earlier this month, Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell released information to help parents understand more about the dangers their children face while online.
Mitchell and her office shared a statistic from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), showing that more than 7,000 reports of online sextortion of minors occurred in 2022.
According to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (MCAO), sextortion “is a form of exploitation where children are threatened or blackmailed by a person who demands additional sexual content, sexual activity or money from the child. The scammer will threaten the child with the possibility of sharing nude or sexual images of them with their family, friends and the public.”
The genesis of these encounters, per the MCAO, happens when “a teen receives a message from a pretty girl on a social media or dating site. The two begin to talk and eventually share explicit photos. Unbeknownst to the teen, the person on the other side of the chat is not a pretty girl at all. It’s a scam artist who has recorded their entire conversation, explicit photos and all, and is now blackmailing the teen for more photos or money.”
The MCAO warned parents that this activity is “more common than you think,” adding that “13-17 boys are the most common target.”
Boys and girls come across these scammers through direct messages on their social media apps and are usually coaxed into moving the conversation or supposed relationship into an anonymous messaging app or a live-stream video chat.
County Attorney Mitchell and her office give the following advice for parents in helping educate and protect their children against these serious online dangers:
Explain what information should never be shared on social media
Remind your kids that they should never accept a friend request or respond to someone they don’t know in real life, even if they have friends in common online
Teach them how to block and report people on social media sites
Warn them of the risk of sharing inappropriate photos
Most importantly, remind your kids that they can always come to you for help
Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.
Arizona State University (ASU) held a Department of Justice (DOJ) “United Against Hate” event for the LGBTQ+ community last Wednesday.
The event was the second in a series from the Arizona District Attorney’s Office, hosted by ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. There were approximately 80 guests invited, including representatives from the FBI, the Phoenix Police Department, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, and the Attorney General’s office.
District attorney Gary Restaino said that his office was not only committed to prosecuting hate crimes and discrimination, but tackling ignorance and bias.
“Hate crimes harm not just individuals, but also traumatize communities and families,” said Restaino. “My office is committed to using all the tools in our law enforcement arsenal, both to prosecute acts motivated by hate, and to educate against ignorance and bias.”
UAH events are part of the DOJ’s national United Against Hate program, which coordinates all 94 U.S. Attorney’s Offices (USAOs) to combat hate crimes. The DOJ announced the initiative last September. According to the initial press release description of the program, UAH events resemble workplace harassment training: hypothetical scenarios and video clips depicting real-life hate crime cases and stories.
Attorney General Merrick Garland explained that the UAH program was designed to strengthen coordination between the community and law enforcement to respond to hate crimes and discrimination.
“That is why the Justice Department has launched its new United Against Hate program. This initiative brings together community groups, community leaders, and law enforcement at every level to build trust and strengthen coordination to combat unlawful acts of hate,” said Garland.
Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke added that this greater coordination would ensure that more allegations of hate crimes and discrimination would be investigated.
“The stronger the ties between communities and law enforcement, the more faith that communities will have that their allegations will be investigated and taken seriously. This moment requires an all-hands-on-deck strategy to fully confront unlawful acts of hate,” said Clarke. “The United Against Hate program brings together the vast network of civil rights, government, faith, and community-based leaders needed to improve reporting, promote prevention strategies and build the resilience needed to confront hate crimes and incidents.”
Garland first revealed the intent to launch the UAH initiative in May 2021, following President Joe Biden signing the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act and Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act into law. The act prioritizes funding for states who implement a hate crimes investigatory infrastructure in accordance with the legislation, part of which includes a community liaison and public meetings or educational forums on the impact of hate crimes, services available to hate crime victims, and the laws regarding hate crimes.
The act also moved that those sentenced to supervised release following imprisonment for a hate crime may be required to undergo educational classes or community service related to their offense.
Three USAOs piloted the program in spring 2021: New Jersey, Massachusetts, and the Eastern District of Washington. There have been over 50 events held nationwide since then.
The first UAH event in Arizona occurred in December, at the First Institutional Baptist Church in Phoenix. The event focused on combating hate crimes and discrimination against African-Americans. The Arizona District Attorney’s Office plans on hosting more UAH events in the coming months.