A Bowling Green man is suspected of pressuring a girl over social media to send him sexually explicit images of herself in a case that illustrates the trauma that can be inflicted on a person over an Internet connection.
Chase Coston, 19, has pleaded not guilty in Warren Circuit Court to four counts of use of a minor in a sexual performance (victim younger than 16) and four counts of promoting a sexual performance by a minor (victim younger than 16).
Coston was indicted by a Warren County grand jury in June and arraigned last week. He will return to court Nov. 23 and is in Warren County Regional Jail under a $25,000 bond.
Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Cohron said this is the first case his office has prosecuted that has involved what he termed “Internet slaving,” in which someone contacts juveniles through social media and coerces them into sending sexually explicit images of themselves, often threatening to share other images online if the victims stop cooperating.
“The manipulation used by these predators is something that should remind all parents that they need to continually monitor their child’s Internet, and especially their social media, usage,” Cohron said when speaking generally about Internet slaving. “We’ve seen reported cases where, as the victim is interviewed, they truly felt they had no choice but to cooperate (with a predator).”
A Bowling Green Police Department report details how someone believed to be Coston used the mobile instant messaging app Kik to coerce a 14-year-old girl from Wisconsin into sending nude images of herself.
The girl contacted law enforcement in Wisconsin in July 2014 to report being harassed by someone she did not know who sent her a message on Kik.
According to the city police report, the girl said the Kik user threatened to edit the photos on the girl’s Facebook page to make them appear as though she was not wearing clothes if she did not do what he requested. The Kik user had sent the girl messages with pictures from her Facebook account and stated that he also had pictures from her Instagram account.
The girl responded that she was 14 years old but became afraid when the Kik user also sent her messages with pictures from Facebook accounts belonging to one of her friends and her mother, according to the report.
“(The girl) indicated she sent photographs to this Kik user of herself showing her cleavage, her breasts and with her pants removed because this individual continued to threaten her,” then-BGPD Detective Mike Lemon wrote in the report.
The threats and requests for additional pictures continued despite pleas from the juvenile to stop, which led to her contacting law enforcement.
A deputy in Wisconsin viewed Kik messages on the girl’s cellphone and found that the threatening messages came from an account that had multiple user names. As the phone was taken into evidence, a Kik user named “Iron Mike” sent a message, and the deputy responded in an effort to gather information about the user.
“Iron Mike” sent a message indicating a photo from the girl was now on the Internet, and provided a link to a website when the deputy asked him to prove it, according to the report.
The day after the girl contacted law enforcement, someone posted two nude pictures of her on her Instagram account, the report said.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security preserved the data for the Kik and Instagram profiles who contacted the girl, and the DHS was able to determine based on Internet Protocol data that the Kik users involved in the investigation appeared to be in Bowling Green and Dublin, Ireland.
In August 2014, the U.S. Secret Service conducted a forensic examination of the girl’s cellphone and iPad and recovered partially nude photos of herself from the cellphone as well as the chat between the girl and the Kik user.
“These images were confirmed to be the images sent to the suspect by the victim,” Lemon wrote. “This chat shows how the juvenile victim was induced via threats to send nude images of herself to the unknown person using the Kik account.”
Through search warrants and summons, investigators connected the Instagram account, which used multiple screen names, to a Bowling Green IP address.
“The only user the account was following was the victim’s account,” Lemon wrote. “Nude images of an unknown female appearing to be under the age of 18 and images appearing to be similar to those recovered in the forensic examination of the victim’s cellphone were observed in this account.”
The images from Instagram appeared to be sent with threatening messages in which the girl was ordered to send more images.
Law enforcement connected the Kik account to the same Bowling Green IP address.
Bowling Green police learned the location of the residence connected with the IP address and obtained a search warrant for the residence, which was executed Dec. 31.
Police interviewed Coston at that time, and he admitted he and another person he said was from England had solicited the girl to send them nude images, according to the report.
“For approximately the last year they have been ‘slaving’ females under the age of 18,” Lemon wrote. “Slaving entails getting them to send nude images of themselves using threats. Once they receive the images they continue to get them to send more images and sometimes money under the threat of public shaming.”
Bowling Green police seized a cellphone and laptop from Coston’s residence. Investigators found a file folder on the laptop with the girl’s name in the title, and the file contained clothed and nude images of the girl similar to those recovered from her cellphone.
Several other folders on the laptop had images of girls “appearing to be well under the age of 18 in various stages of undress and exposing their breasts, buttocks and vaginal area,” the report said.
Local law enforcement has some familiarity with cases such as this that involve allegations of “Internet slaving” or “extortion,” as it has also been called.
Earlier this year, a Todd County man was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison in a case in which he used a computer at his former workplace at Logan Aluminum to pose as a teenager and demand at least two girls send him sexually explicit photos of themselves.
“It’s not something we deal with on a daily basis, but a couple times a month we come across cases involving inappropriate contact on phone or computer apps,” said Officer Ronnie Ward, BGPD spokesman.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which operates a CyberTipline that receives reports of online sexual exploitation, reported this year that the average age of a victim at the time of the incident is 15, and 78 percent of incidents involved female children.
Of the reports the NCEMC received on its CyberTipline between October 2013 and June 2015, 22 percent mentioned being suspicious of or knowing that multiple children were being targeted by the same offender.
“Commonly, the offender would approach the child on a social networking site and then attempt to move the communication to anonymous messaging apps or video chats where he/she would obtain sexually explicit content from the child,” the NCEMC’s website states in its page on sextortion.
Internet companies reported 32 percent of sextortion tips, while 27 percent were self-reported and 22 percent were parent/guardian reports.
Ward said it is important for young social media users to be firm in their refusal to take part in inappropriate activity.
“We do some educational talks about this to whomever will listen, and we always tell them to not be afraid to say no, not be afraid to stop communication or tell someone,” Ward said. “We tell parents to be involved in their children’s activities or electronic devices, know who they’re talking to.”