Daniel Lints was kind and responsible with a witty sense of humor. The rural Manitoba teenager had a bright future and a loving family. He used to play hockey and frequent the nearby community pool.
He was a normal and happy 17 years old, until one day in February, he accepted a message request on Snapchat, appearing as an attractive young woman.
He forced her to send a candid image. Within minutes he was being blackmailed and within three hours he took his own life.
Daniel’s father, Derek Lints, says, “It seems to me that he was murdered, with tears rolling down his cheeks.
Lints and his wife Jill say they are dealing with an unimaginable tragedy. Daniels, who most people refer to as Danny, was the victim of a growing global sextortion scheme largely targeting teenage boys.
“I know Danny must have made a difference in this world,” says Jill Lints as she sits at the family kitchen table in Pilot Mound, Man., 180 kilometers southwest of Winnipeg. “He must have done good things and he has already done good things.
“The world has lost a good man.”
Police agencies around the world have been sending out immediate warnings about sexual abuse against boys.
The trick is sophisticated, says Stephen Sawyer, director of Cybertip.ca at the Canadian Center for Child Protection. Organized crime rings based on forex masquerade as young women on social media platforms teens use such as Snapchat and Instagram.
They reach juveniles and give them sexual attention quickly. Users take advantage of young boys’ developmental and impulsive levels, says Sawyer, and hurriedly ask for an image or video.
Then the threats start.
Sawyer says anonymous users, knowing there would be a sense of shame, say they’ll send pictures to family and friends if teens don’t give them money.
“Young people in particular are quite vulnerable to this.” He says. “They are still developing their sense of self. They are still developing their identity and often they engage in sexual exploration.”
Many teens – like Danny – empty their bank accounts. But, often, when the blackmail continues, they take their own lives.
The RCMP’s National Center for Child Abuse Crimes received a total of 52,306 complaints for the year 2020-21 – a 510 percent increase from seven years ago. Experts have pointed to increased online activity during the pandemic as a contributing factor.
CyberTip, Canada’s tip line for reporting child sexual abuse online, in 2021 had an average of 20 reports a month for this type of sexual abuse. This year it increased to 55 per month and in May it increased to 75 reports.
The mountains from coast to coast have warned. Calgary police warned earlier this month that that city alone had reported nearly 50 cases since the year began. “We believe these crimes are under-reported,” Staff Sgt. Graeme Smiley said.
Police are asking parents to talk to their children about the risks online. The RCMP says that any victim of sexual abuse should cease communication with the instigator and notify a trusted adult, cybertip or police.
Danny’s parents say at least two other boys from their small Manitoba community were targeted in the months following their son’s death.
They say that Pilot Mound, with a population of over 600, was the ideal place to raise his son and two daughters. People look out for each other and have a sense of security.
He never thought that any threat would come from all over the world through social media.
Daniel was calm and content. He worked hard and bought his first mobile tablet with his savings to play games with friends. Derek Lints talks to his son about staying safe online.
As Daniel got older, he was given more freedom online. He told his family about a presentation at school about Amanda Todd, who took her own life in 2012 following online sextortion at the age of 15. A Dutch national is facing trial in British Columbia and has pleaded not guilty to five charges, including criminal assault and communication to commit a sexual offense with a young man.
One in three Internet users in the world is a child – one in five in Canada. Many countries are putting pressure on social media companies to ensure that platforms are safe for that demographic.
The European Union recently agreed a landmark regulation for the tech giants. Australia and New Zealand are moving in the same direction.
Canada has created an Online Safety Advisory Council to create a regulatory framework to address harmful content online.
Sawyer says social media platforms have a responsibility to keep kids safe. They can do much more, he says.
“There seems to be a lack of will and a lack of pressure and obviously a lack of regulation in this area.”
More than 10 years after Todd’s death, the Lintes are disappointed that the children are still in danger. They want every parent and teen to be aware of sexual abuse scandals. They want social media companies to be pressured to keep children safe.
“This is our way of fighting against these poachers who stole Danny from us. That’s all we can do now,” says Jill Lints.
“We can tell everyone.”
where to get help
Visit Canada’s National Cyber Tip Line Cybertip.ca to report online sexual abuse/exploitation, non-consensual distribution of intimate images or other forms of online harassment of children.
If you know of a child who is in immediate danger or at risk, call 911 or your local police.
Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press
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