A mother was horrified after discovering that her 12-year-old daughter was being sent vulgar messages and images from online predators on the messaging app, Kik.
Often monitoring what her young children are doing on social media, Sarah (not her real name) from NSW, did a random check on her daughter’s iPad and was shocked at what she found. There were screenshots on the camera roll of conversations between men claiming to be 23 and 25 years old.
Reported by news.com.au, the men were asking where she lived and how they could meet her. They also sent offensive pictures and videos through the app of young girls performing sex acts.
“One couldn’t have been older than her,” Sarah said.
Her little girl had been groomed for four weeks, Sarah concluded. She says things could have escalated but her daughter deleted the app after getting scared off.
“I’m glad I found it before something more happened,” Sarah said.
Her daughter was embarrassed and rattled by the situation, but Sarah reassured her that she was the victim in the situation. “I had to convince her that she’s not stupid, she’s a smart girl, but people who do this to children online know how to make them say what they want,” Sarah explained. “That’s how they work, they’re predators.”
She reported the incident to the police, but didn’t take it any further. She decided that she wanted to save her daughter from the ordeal of having to give evidence and potentially face court.
The girl’s grandmother has launched a change.org petition to have the app banned – it has now amassed more than 8,000 signatures.
“My daughter has now seen horrible, horrible things that I just can’t take out of her head now,” Sarah said.
“I’d like to see more awareness brought to parents and schools, and people taking it more seriously realising that this can happen.
“So many people just brush it off when they hear that things like this can happen and they don’t take it seriously, but if it can happen to my daughter, it can happen to anyone,” she continued.
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According to the Victoria Department of Education, these are the signs your child could be at risk of online grooming:
• You find pornography on your child’s computer. Online predators may send pornographic images in order to ‘normalise’ their requests for pictures.
• Your child is receiving or making calls to numbers that you don’t recognise.
• Your child is spending an increasing and/ or an excessive amount of time online.
• Your child is receiving unexplained gifts (mobile phones or extra credit vouchers are common).
• Your child is becoming withdrawn and there is a distinct change in their behaviour.
• Your child is becoming more secretive in what they are doing online and is trying to ‘hide’ what they are doing online.
• There are people on your child’s ‘friends’ list that you do not know and your child has never met offline.
What to do
As well as checking all the security settings on social networking sites, the Victoria Department of Education also suggests making sure your child knows that:
• They can tell you about any problems they are having or if someone online makes them feel uncomfortable.
• It’s OK to trust their instincts.
• If something feels odd or strange then it probably is.
• ‘Good friends’ don’t make them do things that make them feel uncomfortable.
If you believe your child is being exploited, you can report it online to the Australian Federal Police.