CLINTON COUNTY, Mich. (WLNS) – A 21-year-old Florida man faces federal charges in Michigan, after being accused of threatening a Clinton County teen on Snapchat to get her to send sexual photos.
The federal case against Brandon Le is moving forward, after appearing in a Grand Rapids courtroom earlier Wednesday.
Charges against Le include sexual exploitation of a minor, and receipt of child pornography.
Federal officials said Brandon Le contacted a 13-year-old girl via Snapchat in August 2019.
While chatting online, officials said Le turned the conversation to sexual topics and took screenshots of the chat. Court documents reported he threatened to post the photos and his victim’s name online if she did not send explicit photos and video.
Michigan State University professor Karen Holt said an online chat can turn into something worse. She said the number of victims, and the online nature can make it hard to track down suspects.
In a 2020 study that she co-anchored to figure out who’s behind these crimes, the study found that offenders ranged from young men posing as minors to connect with young girls to suspects claiming to have hacked victims’ personal files.
Suspects can even be international.
“Transnational offenders, they are the ones that are operating out overseas, so Africa and the Philippines. We’ve seen increases in offenders operating over there. that kind of sextortion typically, they are, really it’s just financial gain for them,” said Holt.
Holt said police agencies, including some in Michigan, have made strides to crack down on the crime.
Some governments are even looking to make laws specific to sextortion, and Holt said preventing and catching these crimes starts with open discussions between parents and teens.
“It’s never about the victim, it’s never the victim’s fault, no matter what they’ve done,” said Holt.
Holt remarked that many times, criminals will tell their victims that speaking out will also get them in trouble.
She suggested having age-appropriate talks with your kids about the internet and body safety can help build trust.