Naked mole rats help fight ‘sextortion’

Canadian Centre for Child Protection uses a silly looking animal to make teen boys aware of an increasingly serious issue.


The Canadian Centre for Child Protection is using ugly animals and a lighthearted approach to bring attention a serious issue that has been affecting young boys at an increased rate.

“Sextortion” is when a teen who sent nude photos to a stranger posing as another teen is threatened with the prospect of having the photos posted publicly or shared with friends and family unless the teen either sends money or more photos.

Created by No Fixed Address, a video uses the format of typical educational videos of the past, with a cheery spokesman drawing attention to the issue and explaining it to a group of typical teen boys. Instead of thrusting their smartphones down their pants when who they believe is a romantic partner asks for nudes online, he suggests that instead of sending a picture of themselves, they instead send a photo of a naked mole rat – a pink, hairless, four-inch long rodent that is “long, veiny and fleshy” and a great alternative picture to send, as it can’t lead to sextortion.

The video drives to a website where teens can find a wealth of pictures, memes and GIFs featuring naked mole rats for them to share, as well as image keyboard apps to make sending easier and merchandise featuring the animal. On the more serious side, the site also provides advice on how to avoid sextortion and numbers to call if they believe they are a victim of it.

bunchofnudes_270The video was posted online and on social networks at the end of May, and total reach for the campaign was just under 62 million impressions after the first two weeks. It also moved into broadcast, airing on networks with high viewership among young males, such as Viceland and FX.

The release of private or explicit photos without someone’s consent tends to be an issue centred around women and young girls. The organization has done PSAs aimed at girls in the past and has ongoing efforts to address the issue, but decided to focus its latest efforts on young boys because of a huge increase, with cases targeting boys spiking 89% over the last two years.

Lianna McDonald, executive director at Canadian Centre for Child Protection, adds that the circumstances around sextortion targeting boys tends to be far different than when girls. With girls, there are a range of reasons, from trusting someone they shouldn’t have to being recorded against their will to peer-to-peer bullying. For boys, they are targeted online and in apps by organized groups using photos taken from elsewhere to pose as a peer, when in reality they are part of a network of people, with McDonald comparing it more to senior fraud.

“Girls are vulnerable, but for more general reasons,” she says. “For boys, it’s organized groups who have found a quick way to make money by exploiting the typical adolescent behavior and desires of teen boys. The boys we’ve been getting calls from are distressed and humiliated. We’ve been talking to and about girls, but we have to do something else for boys because it’s a very different, organized system that’s acting here.”

The organization’s previous PSAs that have been aimed at girls and addressed the issue of sharing explicit images have been much more series in tone. One campaign – following the suicides of five young girls after private images were used to bully them – were sombre and attempted to empower other girls by letting them know they aren’t alone. McDonald says No Fixed Address pushed the organization to step outside of its comfort zone, using humour as a way to break through the clutter of fear-based messages that weren’t connecting with boys.

“We are an organization that’s been really careful [in our communications],” she says. “These are serious issues, and you have to find the line. But if we’re not getting their attention, we’re not doing our jobs, so we’re being careful, but still knowing our target audience and not being too afraid of doing the kinds of things that will get them talking.”