An important message from Watertown School Superintendent Patricia LaBarr

WATERTOWN, NY –  There have recently been several cases of sextortion of students in the North Country. Sextortion is a term which has been used to define crimes that occur “when someone threatens to distribute your private and sensitive material if you don’t provide them images of a sexual nature, sexual favors, or money,” (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2015). These predators have developed tactics that allow them to exploit children through their connected devices, within their own homes. Children are threatened that the images they have sent will be shared with family, friends, school classmates, etc. As you can imagine, this is very overwhelming and scary for young people. This is a crime that affects children and teens and predators do not discriminate based on gender, ethnicity, or socio-economic status. Unfortunately, when youth feel hopeless, excessively worried, and feel like there’s no way out, they are at risk of making harmful decisions.

The most important thing you can do to protect your children is to establish open communication. Have age-appropriate discussions with your child about the dangers associated with communicating with unknown people online, sending photos, or engaging in other risky behavior online. In an effort to protect children from online predators, it’s important to educate them about sextortion and the motivations of those who extort children. Let your children know they can come to you without fear of reprisal, and that you have a genuine interest in their safety and online activities. Those exploited through these crimes are victims, no matter what they did or how they responded to the threat. Let your children know that even if they have been involved in sharing explicit images, you will help them navigate recovery. Ensure your child knows they are not on their own to deal with the situation.

In the Watertown CSD, we discuss safe cyber behaviors in elementary, intermediate, middle, and high school. However, cyber crimes that affect our children change in nature and new methods of exploitation are often unknown to parents and supporting adults until crimes have occured. Anytime that new methods of child exploitation are known to you, please consider informing a school counselor, administrator at our school, or the Watertown Police Department.  You may also call my office at 315-785-3705.  We are here to support our students and families.


Due to school closings and stay-at-home orders resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, children’s increased online presence may put them at greater risk of child exploitation. Parents, guardians, caregivers, and teachers can take the following measures to help protect children from becoming victims of online child predators (also available as a PDF):

  • Discuss internet safety and develop an online safety plan with children before they engage in online activity. Establish clear guidelines, teach children to spot red flags, and encourage children to have open communication with you.

  • Supervise young children’s use of the internet, including periodically checking their profiles and posts. Keep electronic devices in open, common areas of the home and consider setting time limits for their use.

  • Review games, apps, and social media sites before they are downloaded or used by children. Pay particular attention to apps and sites that feature end-to-end encryption, direct messaging, video chats, file uploads, and user anonymity, which are frequently relied upon by online child predators.

  • Adjust privacy settings and use parental controls for online games, apps, social media sites, and electronic devices.

  • Tell children to avoid sharing personal information, photos, and videos online in public forums or with people they do not know in real life. Explain to your children that images posted online will be permanently on the internet.

  • Teach children about body safety and boundaries, including the importance of saying ‘no’ to inappropriate requests both in the physical world and the virtual world.

  • Be alert to potential signs of abuse, including changes in children’s use of electronic devices, attempts to conceal online activity, withdrawn behavior, angry outbursts, anxiety, and depression.

  • Encourage children to tell a parent, guardian, or other trusted adult if anyone asks them to engage in sexual activity or other inappropriate behavior.

  • Immediately report suspected online enticement or sexual exploitation of a child by calling 911, contacting the FBI at, or filing a report with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) at 1-800-843-5678 or

How to Talk About Sextortion with Your Kids: Three 30-Second Conversations 

The New Version of Don’t Talk to Strangers

  • When you’re online, has anyone you don’t know ever tried to contact or talk to you?

  • What did you do or what would you do if that happened?

  • Why do you think someone would want to reach a kid online?

  • You know, it’s easy to pretend to be someone you’re not online and not every person is a good person. Make sure you block or ignore anything that comes in from someone you don’t know in real life.

The Power of a Picture

  • Has anyone you know ever sent a picture of themselves that got passed around school or a team or club?

  • What’s possible anytime you send someone a picture?

  • What if that picture were embarrassing?

  • Can you think about how someone could use that kind of picture against a person?

I’m Here to Help

  • I read an article today about kids being pressured to send images and video of their bodies to a person they met online. Have you ever heard about anything like that?

  • Sometimes they were being threatened and harassed—scary stuff.

  • You know, if you are ever feeling like something is going on—online or off—that feels scary or wrong or over your head, my first concern is going to be helping you. You can always come to me.

Additional information, resources, and conversation guides are available at

School Resources:

If you or someone you know is thinking about self-harm or suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.  To learn how to recognize risk factors and warning signs, go to

If you need additional support, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.  Together, we can make a difference!

Superintendent LaBarr