Youth sextortion cases in Canada have risen by 150 per cent in the first half of this year, leading an Alberta RCMP officer to warn about a site that is a “breeding ground” for child exploitation.
Sgt. Kerry Shima, who works in the internet child exploitation unit with the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams (ALERT), said the free online chat website Omegle is dangerous for young people.
The website matches the user up with other random users from around the globe. The site has been around since 2009 but has experienced a spike in popularity since the beginning of the pandemic as influencers use the site and post videos for their followers.
“There are a lot of people on the site and it is growing in popularity probably because of the Tik Tok videos and the Instagram videos or the reels… and the kids are seeing this platform being used by some of their favorite influencers,” said Shima.
Shima said he posed as a 14-year-old girl on Omegle and the first random stranger he was matched up with asked him for nude pictures.
“It happens really quickly and my experience is that it’s one, two, three, four lines, they’re asking for Snapchat handles, they’re asking for Instagram handles, because that’s where they can actually have a real conversation.”
Children can get lured into sending pictures or videos, and the person on the other end may use those as collateral for money or more pictures.
Shima said it’s embarrassing for the teenager, who may end up complying with the demands.
“We want them to come forward now and tell us about this, so we can get them the proper supports. But it’s not any different than some of the other offences that carry a lot of shame for victims, like sexual assault, domestic violence and things like that,” said Shima.
“It’s really underreported.”
He said it’s important to talk to kids and make sure they have a safe place to go when things go wrong.
Cybertip.ca is Canada’s tipline for reporting online sexual exploitation. It recommends stopping communication and to not comply with threats, and to report the exploitation to local police and its online reporting tool.