Action News Jax Investigates: Increase in Local Boys Targeted by Online Predators

Your children have been spending way more time online during the pandemic.

On the other side of some of those screens, criminals and sexual predators looking to take advantage of them. Action News Jax learned investigators in one local county have seen an increase in boys being targeted and that’s also creating other challenges for investigators.

St. Johns County man Lucas Michael Chansler was sentenced to 105 years in federal prison in 2014 for victimizing around 350 girls across 26 states, parts of Canada, and the United Kingdom.

In one of its largest sextortion investigations, the FBI said Chansler posed as a 15-year-old boy and used social networking sites to coerce teen girls to send him sexually explicit photos. Action News Jax Anchor Tenikka Hughes checked with the FBI for an update on the case and learned investigators are still working to track down hundreds of victims today.

According to data from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children around 78% of sextortion victims are female children compared to 15% of male children. But recent numbers out of Clay County show an opposite trend. Nearly a third of their sextortion cases in 2020 were boys.

Clay County Detective Ryan Ellis investigates child sex crimes and said “These boys meet someone who they believe to be someone in their peer group, oftentimes a female, and they engage in conversations. They’re eventually solicited for lewd photographs, videos, files, which sometimes unfortunately that those male children will send that. And then the offender typically gets them and then we’ll end up extorting them either for money or for more photos.”

Detective Ellis wants parents to be clear, criminals are not targeting kids on the dark web or hidden sites but on common social media platforms.

Detective Ellis said, “They are on the everyday social media apps, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, things that children use every day. And they’re not going on websites and places where they know there’s nothing but grown adults. They’re going on places where they know children are congregating. And that’s where they go to find these children to exploit them.”

Allen Ruyle is a psychotherapist and on the board of directors for MaleSurvivor, a non-profit dedicated to fighting the sexual victimization of men and boys and provides resources to support those who have been impacted. Ruyle said predators know children and teens might be scared to tell an adult what’s happening and that fear could be enhanced for boys for a number of reasons.

Ruyle said, “There’s a big stigma around sexual abuse survivors, particularly sexual abuse survivors who are male. But the things that keep them quiet are rooted mostly in myths that are very pervasive in the public domain, myths that if a boy is abused, particularly by a man- that it’s going to alter his sexual orientation. That if a boy is abused, he will grow up to be an abuser himself…Boys are not supposed to be victims and boys are supposed to be in charge and able to protect themselves. So, all of these things conspire to keep people, keep boys and men from speaking up about what’s going on.”

Which means there are likely more male victims than we realize and many may never come forward. Ruyle encourages victims to speak up.

“If you don’t feel safe talking to your parents about this, talk to a teacher, talk to someone, some adult that you trust, and don’t be silent because you’re afraid of what people are going to think about this. Anybody who understands how this operates is not going to blame you, you are not the one who’s responsible here, you’re being manipulated,” said Ruyle.

Detective Ellis said parents need to monitor their children’s activity online and have honest conversations at home. “It is important from the beginning to have that real talk and to sit down and talk with your children, especially son, daughter, either way, that the same thing that goes talking with strangers in public or someone that you meet, the same thing applies on the internet.”

It’s not easy to find resources for men and boys. Some resources Ruyle recommends include:

Detective Ellis said you can also reach out to local police, your child’s doctor, or local domestic violence or rape crisis centers for help connecting to resources.