Manitoba RCMP ICE unit combating rising cases of sextortion

The Manitoba RCMP’s internet child exploitation (ICE) unit has been inundated with cases of online child sexual abuse, exploitation, in particular, sextortion.

“These types of files are coming in regularly. Almost daily,” Const. Izza Mian with the Manitoba RCMP ICE unit told Global News and 680 CJOB.

“There is an exponential increase. Sextortion has been in the media quite a bit, that is probably the number one file that we see coming into our office. We get roughly a couple of those a day up until 14 plus a week.”

Mian says the sextortion cases usually involve an unknown adult communicating with a child online until a sense of trust or familiarity is built.

“Once that trust is built, the sextortion starts happening,” Mian said. “So they may ask for nude or sexualized images from a child, and then the extortion starts happening.

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“So this individual or perpetrator may ask for more nude images, they may ask for money or gift cards. And you can imagine for a child who’s going through something like that, it can be pretty scary for them.”

“It’s organized. It’s almost scripted,” Mian added. “So these individuals, they know how to speak the language that kids are speaking.”

The officers say they’ve seen a rise in cases since just before the pandemic, with children and youth spending an increasing amount of time online.

“Their basic needs – whether it’s love, affection or belonging – are coming from social media, whether it’s the likes, the comments, or whoever is talking to them, that dopamine is coming from their device,” Const. Kirandeep Hira said.

“And it’s almost kind of in the sense that, when we were younger, people who were drug trafficking were selling the gang lifestyle as a place to belong, (where) you can have all these shiny things and we’ll love you and protect you, it’s kind of the same thing when it comes to sextortion.”

Click to play video: 'Inside ICE: The work, demands of Manitoba RCMP’s child exploitation unit'

Inside ICE: The work, demands of Manitoba RCMP’s child exploitation unit

Hira says social media has also changed perceptions around online safety.

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“That’s a huge part too — of this generation feeling they’re invincible online,” Hira said. “So stranger danger no longer exists, in a sense of when a kid goes to the park, they’re saying, ‘oh I can’t talk to anybody I don’t know.’ But that same sentiment doesn’t translate to online behaviour.”

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Hira says the numbers are also largely underreported, and only touch the surface of what’s happening online, as many victims never come forward.

“I would say there’s a huge dark figure in terms of numbers,” she said.

Some of those numbers stem from reports from, which is operated by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection. In 2023, processed more than 27,000 reports of sexual exploitation of children online, both nationally and internationally.

“The concerning part is we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg,” senior manager Catherine Tabak told Global News. “Right now, our team is processing about 2,500 reports per month.”

Catherine Tabak is the senior manager of Marney Blunt / Global News

Tabak says social media companies need to step up and put in stronger safeguards for children online, as well as stronger reporting mechanisms for potential cases of exploitation online.

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“There should never be an environment where an adult can connect with a child. Especially when you look at some of these platforms where you can create an account when you’re 13,” Tabak said.

“Creating a space where an adult can come in, knowing they’re an adult, and connecting with a 13-year-old – should never happen.”

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The ICE unit has become well-versed in social media platforms and online chatrooms where predators may attempt to interact with or groom children.

The officers say often predators start conversations in video game chatrooms, and then move the conversation to another social media platform like Instagram or Snapchat.

A reason why they’re urging parents to know exactly what their child is doing online, and know how to use the apps, games, and social media platforms that they’re using. They also say there are certain apps that allow parents to monitor their children’s devices, like Kaspersky Kids.

“It can be extremely difficult for a child to come forward and disclose that they are a victim,” Mian said. “So, it’s extremely important for parents to be able to talk to their kids, monitor their child’s online activities, know who their child is talking to on the other end, and always be aware of maybe changes within their child’s behaviour.”

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Hira says the perpetrators could be anyone, and that applies to the victims as well.

“No child is immune to becoming a victim to these kind of offences. There’s no specific child they’re targeting. It’s just a kid who’s got a device and is online,” Hira said.

“Kids are always one step ahead us. Even with us being so immersed in the technology, we’re always one step behind. And my best advice to parents who think this could never happen to their child – the reality is that it could.”

Const. Grant Kummen says they also have a message to victims who are struggling to come forward.

“Our message for sextortion is if this is happening to you, if you are a child and you are being sextorted, talk to your parents, talk to your principal, talk to your guidance counsellor,” Kummen said.

“It seems like the end of the world. It seems like ‘Oh my goodness, they’ve got these pictures of me, I don’t see the end’. It’s not. It’s not that big of a deal, we can work through it and make sure you have an outlet to go and talk to people. There are so many resources for you to use.”

Click to play video: 'Winnipeg man faces sexual abuse, child porn, and luring charges in ICE investigation'

Winnipeg man faces sexual abuse, child porn, and luring charges in ICE investigation