The dangerous site where predators are grooming Aussie kids
Exclusive: An online chat website that warns its users predators stalk the site is becoming increasingly popular among Australian school students, with experts cautioning parents that children are being groomed on the platform.
Recent Australian investigations into the website, Omegle, includes young girls who have been encouraged to expose themselves and masturbate, with the video then distributed.
Another case involves a 9-year-old girl who had a relationship with an older woman for six months before the police got involved.
Parenting expert and teacher Michelle Mitchell said the case was one of many she hears of when she visits schools.
"She met an older woman on Omegle who she began to FaceTime daily. She often FaceTimed her friends in her room, so her mother thought nothing it. Her mother found her naked, masturbating in front of her iPad with the lady … she had been exposed to all types of pornography and sexual acts.
"The most horrible online incidents I see are usually linked to Omegle. I have seen many kids over the years get involved with paedophiles."
News Corp understands traffic to Omegle, which advertises itself as "talk to strangers" through instant message or video, has doubled in the past 12 months in Australia.
It is also the most visited section in the eSafety Commissioner's eSafety Guide, with 72,456 hits in the past two years.
As Omegle is a chat site it is more difficult to trace offenders, who often entice children to undress or masturbate which is then filmed or photographed and distributed.
eSafety Commissioner, Australia's national regulator for online safety, Julie Inman Grant said: "A warning that 'predators have been known to use Omegle, so please be careful' is an inadequate cop-out. It is little surprise that the site is rife with predatory and illegal content."
Over the last two years the eSafety Commissioner has received nearly 200 Omegle complaints, leading to 170 investigations and 25 featured child exploitation material.
With the Omegle app now banned in Apple app store, the website states it is only to be used by children over 13 but there is no barriers in place and Anne's 11-year-old daughter was easily able to access it.
Anne, from Queensland, said: "She went to a birthday party for a 12-year-old and one of the girls was telling them about Omegle and how she has seen people masturbating on it.
"Later, she and a friend went on it and were immediately asked if they were horny and were they at home.
"When she came to me after she was terrified, hysterical, crying and scared."
Anne, who is a teacher, raised it at her school and was surprised to find "all the kids know about it".
Minister for Cyber Safety Paul Fletcher said the current inquiry into age verification technology will examine the issues and that "the Government will soon be consulting on a new Online Safety Act, and this will consider the need for further action."
Experts warn parents not to get fixated on one site but rather to be vigilant about all.
Other popular apps in the E-Guide Safety Guide were Tik Tok, a video sharing platform and Roblox, a game-creation platform.
Cyber Safety Susan McLean said prevention was a combination of being vigilant, having open and honest communication and having filtering devices in place.
"This is the reality of parenting in the digital space."
Tony FitzGerald from Kids Helpline said they had seen some Omegle cases involving children as young as 10.
"We encourage parents to have open conversations with their kids about online dangers and also try to educate themselves about those dangers.
"Even if you could shut it down it's like playing a game of 'whack-o-moles'. Another one will just appear."
An AFP spokesperson said: "Some chat rooms have more moderation and reporting features than others, so it is recommended parents and carers undertake their own research when deciding whether a certain chat room is appropriate for their child and to understand both the positive and negatives aspects."
"It is important for young people using chat rooms to be empowered to take action when they come across suspicious behaviour, including understanding how to block or report users, and to speak to a trusted adult if something isn't right."