(WLUK) -- An Upper Michigan teen’s death is bringing sextortion to light. Investigators say 17-year-old Jordan DeMay’s suicide was linked to it.
“You know, that cycle of victimization, where that fear is so embedded in you that they are going to distribute those pictures,” said Michael Sewall Internet Crimes Against Children investigator for the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office. “It can push people to the brink.”
Just hours before his death, Marquette investigators believe DeMay was the victim of blackmail through social media. They say the teen was being extorted through Instagram over pictures that he had taken of himself and was pressured by the perpetrator to pay money in exchange for the pictures not being sent to his family and Instagram followers.
That’s what sextortion is, and experts say it’s happening more these days.
“We believe that children are sending more explicit images simply because they’ve been locked down for the last two years,” program manager for the National Criminal Justice Training Center at Fox Valley Technical College Ret. Lt. Joe Laramie said.
Sextortion predators can prey on young children and teens just for explicit photos. In the case of DeMay, officials say it was a manipulation to get money, which DeMay did send, but it wasn’t enough.
“It’s never going to be enough,” said Laramie. “If you send more images, you send more money, whatever it is, it’s never going to be enough. They’re always gonna ask for more.”
Sewall says, more often than not, the threats these predators give are nothing more than empty threats.
“If they fail the first time, they won’t actually do anything about it, all they want is that threat,” Sewall said. “They stir up that fear hormone inside people and they say, ‘I’m gonna post it to your friends, and your family,’ and they give them a list of all the websites their gonna use, and they’ll send screenshots of maybe things that they’ve [the victims] already sent to them and say, ‘This is what I’m gonna use and send to people,’ but a lot of times, they actually don’t end up sending it out to anyone.”
However, hours after Jordan’s death, a friend of Jordan’s did actually receive one of the compromising photos.
But finding who these perpetrators are can be tricky, because officials say sometimes these predators aren’t even in the U.S.
“A lot of our case actually end up in, you know, Africa and different countries, and that can be very difficult, especially for a local agency,” said Sewall.
That’s not always the case, though.
“Sixty percent of those who are sextorted know who the offender is,” said Laramie. “Just because you know someone, doesn’t mean that they aren’t a risk to sending your images to others.”
A homecoming king, high school football player; by all accounts, Jordan DeMay seemed to have everything going for him.
“He also had a knee injury, which sidelined him for almost a year, and that takes away the identity of who he is and what he did,” licensed psychologist at Psychology Associates of the Fox Valley Dr. Frank Cummings said.
Experts say, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary issue, but teens and young adults, especially, don’t always see it that way, or can’t comprehend that.
“For one, the impulsivity, something happens tragic or something that we feel is really impactful, and so it’s that, ‘I don’t know how to handle it,’” said Barb Bigalke, founder and executive director of Kaukauna’s Center for Suicide Awareness. “You still gotta remember – they’re kids; they don’t have the same logical skills of going, ‘Well, let’s see, I should maybe talk with somebody.’”
With more access to the internet and apps, experts also say having a conversation with kids about sextortion is critical.
“It really comes down to communication,” Sewall said. “Have that open line of communication with their children and put some questions in their brain about their activity, before they even start going online and talking to people. Like, ‘What would you do if someone started talking to you online and you didn’t know who that person was?’ Put those hypotheticals out there and see how they react.”
The Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Program now also has resources for parents and children about sexting and sextortion.
They include tips and conversation starters about these issues.