Online blackmail, child sextortion; what parents can know and do

In a world where kids are getting cell phones at a younger age, parents need to know how and when to initiate conversations about the dangers of online activity.

A 14-year-old Waukesha County girl was allegedly blackmailed for nude photos. She told police that an 18-year-old man named "Tanner" promised to give her drugs and money in exchange for nude photos. Police found out that "Tanner" was a 24-year-old man named Benjamin Oswald.

According to a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee spokesman, Oswald was fired this week but worked as a temporary administrative employee at the university's Children's Learning Center.

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There are a lot of problems with cell phones, and this situation is a good reminder about who you can trust on the internet.

"The statistics say the average age for a child to get a cell phone is 10 years and three months old," said Erin Karshen, Milwaukee County assistant district attorney and team captain of sensitive crimes division. "Parents should be talking to their kids about naked images and what happens when somebody requests a naked image."

Erin Karshen, an assistant district attorney in Milwaukee County specializing in sensitive crimes.

Conversations like this might be uncomfortable to have for parents, but it's something that needs to happen before a certain age.

"It can sometimes be an uncomfortable conversation, but I think it's at least one to start having with children – almost as young as seventh grade," said Karshen.

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The 14-year-old said she got "creeped out" after Oswald texted her asking for sex. Police said Oswald sent the girl naked pictures of himself daily. Under a new screen name, police said Oswald threatened to post the nude photos on the internet unless she met him at Roosevelt Park.

"People who sextort children really rely on the shame to silence that child," Karshen said.

Roosevelt Park, Oconomowoc

The girl's grandfather took her to the park and confronted Oswald. Police said Oswald drove off, and the grandfather chased after him. Police in the area pulled Oswald over and arrested him.

The Waukesha County District Attorney's Office charged Oswald with the use of a computer to facilitate a child sex crime, exposing genitals and threatening to communicate derogatory information.

Benjamin Oswald

Statement from UWM:

"Benjamin Oswald was a temporary administrative employee in the Children’s Learning Center. He began employment on Jan. 5, 2022, but was terminated, effective Jan. 26, 2023. 

"As an administrative employee, Oswald was not responsible for the care of children and his workspace was in the administrative wing, separate from the classroom spaces. 

"All UWM Children’s Learning Center employees must undergo regular federal and state background checks before they begin work and annually during their employment. We refer questions about the criminal investigation to the Waukesha County District Attorney’s Office. 

"Broadly, UWM condemns criminal acts that endanger the safety and welfare of children. The university takes pride in the high-quality care that our Children’s Learning Center teachers provide to the children of UWM students, faculty and staff."