In the wake of a 12-year-old boy’s suicide in British Columbia linked to online sextortion, experts say newcomer parents face multi-layered complexities and challenges to navigate this culturally sensitive issue. They say parents need greater involvement in sex education to prevent children and youth from being victimized.
Sextortion is a form of blackmail in which someone online threatens to distribute sexual or sensitive videos or images if the victim does not share more sexual content or pay money.
Cybertip.ca, which receives an average of 50 sextortion reports per week, defines the crime as an organized attack on youth — and males are the primary targets.
Amid growing concerns over online safety and cyber security, Dimple Arora, a Toronto-based life coach, said these issues are tricky for newcomer families. Born to South Asian immigrant parents, Arora has a deeper understanding of newcomers’ struggles.
“Monitoring children’s online activity is the last thing on the minds of new immigrant parents,” she said. “They are usually focused on paying the bills and on their child’s academics.”
She said parents are not fully aware of the dangers of the online world, and they trust that their kids know more about social media than they do and can handle stranger danger online, which worsens the problem.
Drawing from her work with many immigrant families, mostly moms and their teen daughters, Arora finds generational differences, cultural adaptation from different countries, and education level play a role in shaping communication dynamics within families.
Parents from other cultures are often not fully educated on empowered communication with their child about sex education, particularly online sex education, “because they believe, being sexual in any way is completely taboo and not even an option for their children,” Arora said. This makes it more important to have public awareness campaigns, peer support groups, and mentorship programs as essential supports for tweens and teens to navigate the online space.
Kelly Franklin Tallon, founder of Courage for Freedom, a survivor-led charity that helps victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Canada, advocates for mandatory parent training to be added to anti-sex trafficking guidelines in Ontario’s school boards.
A survivor herself, who has worked with hundreds of young survivors of sex trafficking and their families in Ontario, Tallon is a believer in “parent empowering” instead of “parent blaming.”
She insists that mandatory parent training, if offered by schools, can also act as the pathway to foster a deeper understanding of the school education system and the existing tools and resources on sensitive topics like sex education. This would help newcomer parents, who otherwise struggle to access and navigate the system due to cultural and linguistic barriers.
Making newcomer parents aware of their rights and letting these families make decisions for their kids is critical to their integration process, Tallon said.
“There is a responsibility for the established existing communities to support those who are integrating into Canada,” she said. “And we need to create those pathways that are ethnic and inclusive, but also are not siloed.”
Settlement workers, who are mostly immigrants themselves and have lived experience as newcomers, play a vital role, and their knowledge of multiple languages eases their access to different communities.
About the dangers of “parentification,” a common occurrence in many newcomer families, Tallon said: “Once they immigrate, the child starts acting like an adult, making decisions and helping parents navigate barriers, not understanding that her parents are still the governing authority.
“And wearing that dual hat without family support or support from their ethnic community can make the child extremely vulnerable to predators.”
Jesse Miller, a social media education expert, said that in situations of parentification in newcomer families, especially for whom English is not the primary language used in the home, “the children can circumvent parental oversight because parents are limited in their understanding of the language but also maybe understanding of the cultural differences that exist.”
In such cases, services designed to help newcomers in Canada, whether government or non-profit, offering tools and materials produced in multiple languages can bridge the gap, he said.
Miller, who has been delivering social media training and learning resources across school boards in North America, hopes that the schools may play a role in minimizing the feelings of shame and fear a child undergoes when choosing to bring information forward about victimization.
“The idea is that they know that what they’ve done has put them into a vulnerable position, but there are no further consequences from those who love and trust them,” he said.
“They need to be in a space where they know that there’s going to be people helping them.”
Amrita is an NCM-CAJ Collective Member, journalist and content writer, with nearly a decade of experience in content development and journalism in three countries. She started her career as a journalist with a leading daily, The Statesman, in India. She has also led content and editorial teams for several web content management firms. Amrita served as a Communications and Content specialist for some non-profit organizations like the American Red Cross after her move to the U.S. Based out of Toronto, she continues to follow her passion by reporting on human rights violations, education, crimes, inequality and community engagement. Amrita holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Print Journalism from Chennai, India.