A website with the tagline “Talk to strangers!” is putting increasing numbers of Kiwi children at risk, cyber safety professionals say.
Stumble across website Omegle and you’re just two clicks away from being in a video chat with a stranger.
A 14-year-old Wellington girl who has used the site said it contained “lots of nudity”.
“There’s quite a lot of teenagers on there and then occasionally you get creepy old men going on. If you’re on chat, people send quite creepy things, like wanting to sex and stuff.”
Cybersafety consultant John Parsons said he was first alerted to the site in 2013 and immediately warned that the risk would increase over the coming years.
“There’s no question it’s got worse,” he said on Wednesday. “We’re seeing more and more people getting introduced to it and who have gone on to these anonymous platforms where the most horrendous things have been said to them and they’ve seen things that are hard to forget.”
He said he had seen victims of the site as young as 8.
In 2014, an 18-year-old faced sexual grooming charges after travelling from Bay of Plenty to pick up a 12-year-old at her Wairarapa home, six months after they first met on Omegle. The youth admitted indecently assaulting the girl.
NetSafe executive director Martin Cocker said: “All the system does is connect you randomly to another user, so those people could be anybody from anywhere with any intention, which is the unsafe bit of it.
“If criminals are able to establish a relationship that allows them to convince a young person to do something over the webcam, there is nothing stopping them from recording it and exploiting it.”
Another 14-year-old said she went on the site after hearing about it from school friend, and it could be “scary”.
“You don’t have to have a username and you click a button which just takes you to video chatrooms around the world.
“You usually come across people who are a bit weird so you exit out of them until you find someone that you want to talk to. It’s mainly just old men who probably just go on there for a bit of a sexual good time.”
Cocker’s advice to parents was to teach their children to use the internet ethically and safely.
“There are basic conversations that adults should have with their children about people misrepresenting themselves, and that some people would want to do you harm, and you and the child should work together to make sure this doesn’t happen.”
Omegle does not pretend to be suitable for children. A warning on the site says: “Predators have been known to use Omegle, so please be careful. Do not use Omegle if you are under 13. If you are under 18, use it only with a parent/guardian’s permission.”
Originally published in the Dominion Post. Many thanks to Jessy Edwards who gave permission for “The Forever Years” to re-publish this article in full. 🙂