October 08, 2013 - 1:59 PM
VERNON - His name will never make headlines like Amanda Todd or Rehtaeh Parsons, but a Vernon man due to be sentenced for blackmailing underage girls online could have a more lasting impact on similar cases, according to a former prosecutor.
Connor Dee, 28, had nothing to do with the high-profile suicides of B.C.'s Amanda Todd or Nova Scotia's Rehtaeh Parsons, but his crimes are similar to those that drove them to suicide. Dee lured and extorted nude photos of girls as young as 11 and 12. Instead of choosing suicide, his victims called police.
But the Crown in his case has suggested a sentence of only two years, and that just doesn't reflect the need to deter others from taking part in online harassment, says Sandy Garossino, former Crown prosecutor in Metro Vancouver and founder of the Red Hood Project—which is pressing the social media industry to make safety changes. She says incidents like these are growing at an alarming rate.
“Images of child sexual exploitation are entering the (online) sphere through many streams and it’s a gushing river of them,” she says. “There’s this tendency to minimize things that happen online as if they’re not happening to kids we know. The fact is it’s happening to kids all around us.”
Garossino says the two year joint submission from Crown and defence—likely a plea bargain to spare the victims the agony of a trial—could be damaging to future cases.
"Because this is such a new and rapidly growing area of criminal activity, I strongly urge against Crown including sentencing submission agreements that create precedents of sentences at the low end," she says. "All members of the policing and justice system need to become informed of this growing threat."
Unlike the five girls who had the courage to turn Dee in, not all victims of cyber predation survive. It can be a deadly form of bullying, as we have seen with the tragic death of Amanda Todd who, before committing suicide, posted this video explaining how she’d been blackmailed by a stranger online. Rehtaeh Parsons took her own life under similar circumstances.
The landscape for sexual blackmail can be anywhere from text messages, to social media sites like Facebook, to online games like Habbo Hotel. The first photo a victim is persuaded to send changes everything. It pulls them into a vicious circle where they must choose: send more or risk the world finding out.
Garossino explains that the perpetrators aren’t the only set of eyes spying the photographs. This video shows how Amanda Todd’s blackmailer was simultaneously watching her flash her bare breasts and streaming the video online. All it takes is a few seconds of poor judgement for those images to fall in the laps of countless strangers. It's called capping. Videos will be traded by collectors and once they’re on the web, Garossino says it’s impossible to erase them.
“Facebook is still unable to remove intimate images of Amanda Todd. This is how out of control the Internet is,” Garossino says.
She adds that capping plays a major role in the distribution chain of child pornography.
“Without question the victims here will continue to be victimized for years to come, and the impact could and probably will be lifelong,” she says.
We don’t know for sure if Dee distributed the photos he extorted from his victims, but Garossino says it’s quite likely they “entered the tsunami of child porn” that exists on the web.
With countless perpetrators hiding behind the anonymity the Internet provides, Garossino says it’s important for the justice system to set an example with those who are caught.
“Because it’s so difficult to get kids to testify, to report, on the rare occasions that they do, to me, it’s critical that the sentence be extremely high to deter other likeminded people,” she says.
The judge responsible for sentencing Dee is scheduled to give his decision Oct. 10. Similar offenses in the U.S. and U.K. have resulted in 14 years for a man who lured and recorded children committing sex acts on their web cams, and 15 years for a teenage boy who enticed some 30 boys to send him nude photos by pretending to be a girl, then blackmailing them to have sex with him.
“I think this is one of the single most important public policy issues facing the courts today, how to deal with online exploitation,” Garossino says. “What will have to start happening is for sentences to be high enough that they get appealed and go to the senior appellate courts (where) major precedents are set.”
She says Connor Dee’s sentence could be groundbreaking.
“I would love to see a hammer come down in this case.”
To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at firstname.lastname@example.org, call (250)309-5230 or tweet @charhelston.
Connor Dee, 28, has pleaded guilty to over a dozen charges involving girls as young as 11.
(CHARLOTTE HELSTON /InfoTel Multimedia)
Video Credit: YouTube
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