This is a story about teenagers and trust.
Before Tuesday, I thought I had a decent handle on things, as a solo mom, raising boys into men: we have regular, candid (sometimes wildly, hilariously inappropriate) conversations about booze, drugs, sex, consent, respect, and safety.
Before Tuesday, I thought they knew (at least hypothetically), how to avoid the dangers that lurk in the shadows of their (safe, privileged, want-for-little) world.
Because we've talked - more than once, more than a few times - about trafficking, sextortion, and strangers-masquerading-as-friends.
Last week, my 16-year-old woke me in the middle of the night: "Mum! I effed up. I need $200, like, now!"
He was frantic and pacing as I fumbled for the light and my wits.
"Tell me," I said, with a calm I did not feel.
A girl he did not know had friended him on Instagram, and their flirty interaction spilled into Snapchat. In short order, "she" convinced him to send an explicit photo...and then all hell broke loose.
Within seconds, she was demanding money, or she'd send the photo to all of his followers, on both platforms. To his family, his friends, his peers. Everyone.
She then sent screenshots of what appeared to be messages being sent to a handful of people he knows - and my gorgeous man-child was BESIDE himself with shame, fear and embarrassment.
"Mum! I will never live this down! I'll be a laughingstock and bullied and my life will be ruined!"
This is EXACTLY what sextortionists and online predators bank on: that their targets will scramble to meet demands for money, with shame and fear as their guides.
What this predator DIDN'T bank on was this:
Somewhere along the way, my kid decided to trust that I meant it, every time I said, "I've got your back. It doesn't matter what it is, I've got you."
AND, that I, not two months ago, sobbed my way through mandatory work training about human trafficking and sextortion.
Enough of it stuck, that when my son's phone suddenly rang mid-discussion, (a heavily-accented male, threatening to come for all of us) I roared so loud, it woke my other son.
Hung up. Reported, screen-shot, blocked and promptly headed to Cybertips.ca to file a report.
Cleaned up and locked my son's accounts, while assuring him over and over again that no photos would actually be shared and that his life was not, in fact, over.
This last haunted me because once my adrenaline wore off, I laid awake thinking about all the "what ifs?" and all the kids who try to navigate this terrifying shit on their own.
Bottom line: they can't. Some, like a Manitoba teen featured in the news recently, took their own life because of THIS VERY SCENARIO.
Cybertips called me the next day, and were extraordinarily soothing and helpful: they speak with thousands (yes, THOUSANDS) of families, every year, whose children have been terrorized online.
They organized for Snapchat and Instagram to flag and disable the accounts we'd screen-shot. Police (all levels) were notified, and they have been checking in and following up with me regularly, ever since.
Fellow parents, this is the sobering reality for our children. Even when we've told them, warned them, shown them.
Talks and warnings were STILL not enough for one of mine in a moment of weakness.
I can only thank God that in that same moment, his trust in me...was.