Driven by justice, empowered by empathy
Shemique didn’t grow up with aspirations of becoming a digital forensics examiner. In fact, before her role at ELIJAH, an award-winning, provider of cybersecurity, digital forensics and eDiscovery, she was a sexual assault counselor for military members and their families.
During her tenure as a mental health professional, Shemique received a lot of calls from children being blackmailed by sexual predators, which revealed an unsettling truth about the world she lived and worked in. “Prior to this work, I was ignorant to how teens could become victims of online predators,” says Shemique. But her job wasn’t to prevent these crimes from happening — it was to provide emotional support and advice over the phone.
At the time I just felt I couldn’t help the victims at all. I could direct them to other resources, but there was nothing I could actually do for them at that moment, especially because a lot of these children were scared to call the cops.
“I felt powerless,” she admits. “At the time I just felt I couldn’t help the victims at all. I could direct them to other resources, but there was nothing I could actually do for them at that moment, especially because a lot of these children were scared to call the cops.” As this feeling of defeat intensified with each victim’s plea, Shemique looked for other ways to protect endangered children and prevent the unimaginable.
Though Shemique’s role as a counselor didn’t require advanced technical skills, she witnessed the way technology could aid in the investigation and capture of criminals. On one night in particular, a victim called into RAINN, the largest anti-sexual violence organization, for help. Shemique watched as the child was encouraged to search for their IP address and provide descriptions of their surroundings. This information was later given to the police who were able to find the missing child.
This specific instance, Shemique recalls, is what sparked her interest in cybersecurity and inspired her career change. “That whole experience made me really interested in exploring places like the dark web that host online trafficking sites.”
From sexual abuse counselor to cybersecurity educator
With her sights set on serving justice, Shemique pursued a Master’s degree in Digital Forensics and Cyber Investigation. As she learned how to secure computer systems through in-class hacking simulations, Shemique saw an opportunity to educate employees at the non-profit she still worked for.
With her manager’s support, Shemique developed a cybersecurity training presentation that emphasized the importance of protecting yourself online, as well as educational content that helps employees understand and empathize with children who fall victim to sex trafficking.
Cybercrime prevention starts with education
Shemique’s experience in counseling and cybersecurity training revealed one critical problem that leads to unsafe internet use: people don’t fear what they don’t know. And while a lack of awareness can leave our systems vulnerable to attacks, the stakes are much higher when it comes to vulnerable children.
Shemique explains how children become easy targets for manipulation when they’re unable to identify predatory behavior. “You meet someone online, you send them a picture, and that’s when predators will try to blackmail you to send more.” Once the predator is in possession of a photo, they threaten to share it unless the child agrees to meet up in person. Fearing exploitation, the child agrees to meet face-to-face and “that’s when the child’s abducted,” she says.
Shemique points out that standard cybersecurity training won’t be enough to prevent these crimes, though. Instead of educating children on how to properly protect themselves, she says the secret to making sure these lessons really resonate is to explain why they’re important. One day, Shemique hopes to develop cybersecurity training specifically for children to help them understand the dangers lurking online, and she aims to implement them in schools across the country so education is accessible to everyone.
The title that I have is the title that I wanted. It feels surreal.
Digital forensics examiner career is just the beginning
For now, Shemique is happy analyzing devices for evidence of theft and fraud as a digital forensics examiner. “The title that I have is the title that I wanted,” she says, “It feels surreal.” But this success doesn’t mean she’s satisfied. Eventually, Shemique hopes to pursue a doctorate in cybersecurity and work on child sex trafficking cases for the FBI. “I know that work could be emotionally taxing, but saving children from those kinds of crimes is worth it.”
Until then, she’ll just keep learning. “I can never be stagnant. I can never be content,” Shemique says. As she works toward her next career goal, she plans to explore a CompTIA certification and other cybersecurity courses in the Infosec Skills catalog that will help her advance her career. That way, when the FBI calls, she’ll be prepared to take her dream job.