(NewsNation) — At 17 years old, Gavin Guffey loved art, had just graduated high school and seemed to always be wearing a smile. Last year, he died by suicide after he was the target of a sextortion scheme.
Sextortion is when an online predator lures someone into sending them nude images or videos, then demands either more images or money before threatening to share the images with the victim’s friends or family if they don’t comply.
Guffey’s father, South Carolina state Rep. Brandon Guffey, knows firsthand the devastating impact of sextortion. He thinks the biggest problem with the scheme is how quickly it escalates into a harmful situation.
“This happens so quickly with all the families that I’ve spoken with across the country. Most of these situations, as with Gavin’s, you know, it was an hour and 40 minutes from the time he was being extorted to the time he decided to take his life,” Guffey said Sunday during an interview on “NewsNation Prime.”
Rep. Guffey does not want other families to feel the heartbreak and pain he has experienced. That’s why he’s made it his mission to spread awareness about what sextortion is and how to get help.
In South Carolina, Guffey advocated for HB 3583, or “Gavin’s Law,” which stiffens the penalties for sextortion and mandates awareness through schools. Gov. Henry McMaster recently signed the measure into law.
“Under Gavin’s Law, the biggest thing is awareness. All schools along with our Attorney General will be required to inform the general public of what sextortion is and how Gavin’s Law combats it,” Guffey said. “Under the law, if the victim is a minor, you’re looking at up to 20 years in prison, if great bodily harm or death results, this is also an additional up to 20 years.”
While the law has been upgraded to help victims of sextortion, Guffey thinks families can try to guard their children against sextortion by talking with them.
“Make sure that you have a conversation with your kid. We’re too busy telling our kids that everything they do online will stay with them forever, so I would recommend making sure you have that conversation so they feel like they can come to you,” Guffey said. “My son and I had a very open relationship, open conversations, and yet, this was still something that he felt he couldn’t come to me about. So make sure that they are aware that you’re not going to judge them, that you are there to help them.”
Between 2019 and 2021, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says the number of their cyber tipline reports involving sextortion more than doubled.
Guffey’s “Less than 3” foundation says those who fall victim to sextortion should stop responding to the schemers, not send any other pictures or money, take screenshots and tell someone.
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