Police have laid multiple charges against a Calgary man accused of sexually assaulting two teenage girls he met online.
Police launched an investigation in April 2016 after a 15-year-old girl came forward to report she had been sexually assaulted.
Police said the victim had begun chatting with a man she met though the social media app Whisper, which allows users to send and receive messages anonymously, when he invited her to his Woodbine home. Once there, it’s alleged he sexually assaulted the victim.
Although the man had used an alias, police said they were able to determine the suspect’s real name.
As officers investigated the allegations, another 15-year-old girl came forward to report a similar experience.
The second girl told police she met a man online through the same social media app, and was sexually assaulted at his Woodbine home in February 2016. Police said the second victim went to the man’s home again in March 2016, at which time she was sexually assaulted a second time.
Staff Sergeant Melanie Oncescu said the suspect wasn’t posing as a teen during the interactions, but was pretending to be younger than his real age.
“It’s always concerning when adults are taking advantage of young girls. It’s concerning.”
In August, police charged 39-year-old Ian Patrick Wilson, of Calgary, with one count of sexual interference with a child under 16 years, one count of sexual assault, and one count of luring via a telecommunications device.
Based on the second investigation, police later charged Wilson with an additional two counts of sexual interference with a child under 16 years, two counts of sexual assault, and one count of luring via a telecommunications device.
What is the Whisper app?
Technology expert Tom Keenan says there are 20 million users on Whisper, which he described as a confession app.
“There are a lot of things people want to say, particularly kids, they don’t want their parents to know about,” Keenan said. “So this way, you just put it out there and maybe someone can guess who you are but it’s not tied directly to your identity, and that’s the special thing about Whisper.”
Keenan said officially, the minimum age on the app is 17 years old, but it’s hard to check users’ true age. He said one estimate is that four per cent of Whisper users are under 18, but he thinks it’s “more like 40 per cent.”
“Predators go out and they look for vulnerable teenagers, kids who are saying things like, ‘I’m so sad, I wish I had a friend’…or even sexual content can certainly be up there and then they groom them electronically,” he said. “So eventually you can establish private messages going on with a person and what seems to have happened in this case… directions to a house in Woodbine, and that’s obviously stepping over the line.”
Keenan suggests parents stay on top of which apps kids are using and talk to them about how the apps work: remind kids they’re not totally anonymous and that Whisper knows what’s being said and where people are because of geolocation services on cellphones.
“Now every kid has a computer in their hand and they take it to the bedroom. So one trick that works at least for younger kids, you say, ‘we have this family charging station and it’s really important that every night it goes into the family charging system, with mom’s phone, dad’s phone, sister’s phone’…then at least you have them not in their bedroom, which is where a lot of this stuff happens.”
With files from Global’s Erika Tucker