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Police, advocates hope P.E.I.'s Cyberbullying Awareness Day brings discussion, support

The impacts of cyberbullying, including online sextortion schemes, 'can be extreme,' says P.E.I. RCMP Sgt. Shaun Coady. (Marcos Mesa Sam Wordley/Shutterstock - image credit)
The impacts of cyberbullying, including online sextortion schemes, 'can be extreme,' says P.E.I. RCMP Sgt. Shaun Coady. (Marcos Mesa Sam Wordley/Shutterstock - image credit)

Warning: This story deals with suicide. If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual extortion, or is struggling with mental health, you can find resources for help at the bottom of this story.

With the P.E.I. Legislature set to enshrine April 25 as Cyberbullying Awareness Day in the province, advocates and authorities alike hope the day will create an opportunity for tough conversations to happen between parents and their kids.

The private member's bill brought forward by Souris-Elmira MLA Robin Croucher passed third reading unanimously on Thursday. He hopes it is given royal assent in time for the day to be recognized next month.

Police and cyberbullying advocates want to raise awareness around online sexual extortion, or sextortion, which happens when someone sends another person intimate images and then is blackmailed under the threat that the pictures will be shared widely.

Jaime Griffin, who is running a series of cyberbullying workshops for adults and youth through Community Legal Information P.E.I., said it's important for both sides to be open and honest when discussing the pitfalls of interacting with others online.

"It's easy to come at this topic with fear and with shame … so it's so important to have supportive conversations," Griffin said. "I think our kids want to be respected and they want to be understood, so being able to have those open conversations will go a little bit further than coming at it in a fear-based way."

Croucher brought forward his bill to honour the memory of Harry Burke, a 17-year-old Souris Regional High School student who died by suicide last year after being targeted by a sextortion scam.

April 25 will be the first anniversary of Burke's death.

Harry Burke died just hours after making contact on Snapchat with someone he thought was a girl but who turned out to be an extortionist. (Family photo)

Just hours before he died, he had started a conversation with a new contact on the social media platform Snapchat. The person posed as a teenage girl and tempted him into sharing intimate images.

Once those pictures were sent, the contact threatened to destroy his life by releasing the photos if Burke didn't send money.

Online blackmail incidents like these are on the rise nationally. Police here on the Island call it a concerning trend.

Sgt. Shaun Coady with the P.E.I. RCMP said it's heartbreaking stories like Burke's that make online sextortion so devastating.

'It’s not the end of things, they can get beyond that point,' says P.E.I. RCMP Sgt. Shaun Coady.
'It’s not the end of things, they can get beyond that point,' says P.E.I. RCMP Sgt. Shaun Coady.

'It’s not the end of things, they can get beyond that point,' says P.E.I. RCMP Sgt. Shaun Coady. (Tony Davis/CBC)

"The impacts can be extreme. People often think that it is the end of the road for them in terms of having those images shared, and that's very concerning," he said.

"We would recommend that they reach out to somebody and talk about it and recognize that it's not the end of things, they can get beyond that point."

Coady offered some for avoiding a sextortion scam — and what to do if you get caught up in one:

  • Don't pay the perpetrator any money.

  • Stop communication immediately and use clear, assertive language: "I don't want to talk to you."

  • Delete the perpetrator from your social media accounts.

  • Take steps to preserve the conversations through screenshots.

Jaime Griffin is running workshops for parents and youth in P.E.I. about topics related to cyberbullying and having open and honest conversations about the pitfalls of online activities.
Jaime Griffin is running workshops for parents and youth in P.E.I. about topics related to cyberbullying and having open and honest conversations about the pitfalls of online activities.

Jaime Griffin is running workshops for P.E.I. parents and youthabout topics related to cyberbullying and having open conversations about online safety. (Tony Davis/CBC)

When it comes to P.E.I.'s forthcoming Cyberbullying Awareness Day, Griffin hopes it can foster a provincewide dialogue and programming to support parents and children to have more open and honest conversations.

She said youth should also be aware that sextortion perpetrators aren't always strangers — commonly, perpetrators will be someone they know.

"The rate of peer-to-peer cyberbullying on P.E.I. is also quite on the rise," she said. "It's thinking about how do we backtrack that and support youths in healthy relationships and empathy building and caring for each other."

If you or someone you know is struggling, here's where to get help: