‘Chat to strangers’ website led to girl, 11, ‘becoming digital sex slave’
A social media site that enables users to video chat with complete strangers has allegedly become a destination for sexual predators and led to one young girl becoming a paedophile’s "digital sex slave".
Omegle was launched in 2009 as a "great way to meet new friends," pairing complete strangers around the world for one-to-one chats.
A video chat was added a year later and users quickly started reporting nudity or other sexual content on camera.
But in 2014 an 11-year-old girl identified in court documents as "AM" was connected to a Canadian man called Ryan Scott Fordyce.
Fordyce, who was in his late thirties at the time, immediately set about grooming the child and persuaded her to send him nude photos which he promised would make her "feel better".
As the victim started sending the photos Fordyce used them to manipulate her into sending more – demanding specific "poses, props, positions and hairstyles," according to a multi-million dollar lawsuit filed in Oregon this week.
According to the federal lawsuit, Omegle’s 66 million monthly users are not protected in any way, with no age verification system in place and kids being inappropriately matched with adults.
After AM was matched with Fordyce he established a sinister hold over her, blackmailing her into sending explicit photos and forcing her to use the website to recruit other children for him.
AM’s lawyers Carrie Goldberg and Barb Long said in court documents: "On certain days of the week, he would assign Plaintiff to go back onto Omegle for a set number of hours and find other girls who '[he] would like'. AM's task would be to take screenshots of them, get their contact information, and relay everything to Fordyce.
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"There’s no reason for a video streaming product that randomly pairs adults and children to exist at all, let alone without any real safety controls," the girl, who is now in her late teens, told the New York Post.
"This lawsuit is bigger than me," she added.
"The damage has already been done to me, but my team and I are determined to protect the children after me that are just as vulnerable as I was. Nobody deserves this."
Her case is not an isolated one. In 2017, 30-year-old Omegle user Adam Russell Hegyi was sentenced to 22 years in jail after sending a young girl’s nude selfies to her family and threatening to kill her if she stopped sending more to him.
Goldberg and Long say that Omegle has become a popular channel for explicit content and it welcomes underage users.
"The horror our client faced starting at age 11 when Omegle matched her with a child predator was a natural consequence of the inherent and foreseeable dangers of its product," they wrote in a statement.
"May this be a bright burning warning to all tech companies that if you hurt children, we will hunt you down, and make you answer to your victims in court."
Omegle has not as yet responded to the Daily Star’s request for comment.
On its homepage, the site states: "Omegle video chat is moderated but no moderation is perfect. Users are solely responsible for their behavior while using Omegle."
Omegle's disclaimer also states that users should be 18 or over."
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