A chat site that encourages kids to “talk to strangers” is a dangerous destination that played a part in an 11-year-old girl being forced to become a predator’s digital sex slave, a multi-million dollar lawsuit claims.
Omegle, which randomly pairs up users for video and text chats, bills itself as a “great way to meet new friends” but has become a haven for pedophiles and voyeurs who use the site to watch people pleasure themselves, the federal suit filed Friday in Oregon claims.
The site, which has 66 million monthly users from across the globe, says kids 13 and older can use the platform with parental supervision and permission — but doesn’t have any system in place to ensure that users are being supervised, according to the $22 million suit.
The site also doesn’t require users to verify their age or name before using the product and doesn’t have any mechanism in place to prevent kids from being randomly matched with adults and vice versa, the lawsuit says.
In 2014, an 11-year-old girl only identified as “A.M.” logged on to Omegle after using it with friends during sleepover parties in hopes of meeting other middle schoolers like her.
Instead, she was connected to Ryan Scott Fordyce, a now-convicted Canadian pedophile who was in his late 30s at the time and is now facing 10 years behind bars.
Fordyce immediately started grooming the child and coerced her into giving him her contact information so they could keep in touch off the platform that allows users to be anonymous.
There, he asked her to send him nude images of herself and told her he could make her “feel better” and she needed to trust him because it was “integral to her ‘healing,’” even if his requests made her uncomfortable, according to the suit.
At first, Fordyce wanted to see images of the child’s “smile” but he soon started asking for snaps of her body and then started demanding specific “poses, props, positions and hairstyles,” the suit states.
The pedophile set deadlines for his twisted “assignments”, threatened to kidnap A.M. or harm her family and required her to be “at his beck and call” “at all hours of the day and night.”
While the interactions Fordyce and A.M. had didn’t happen on Omegle’s site, the platform continued to be a central part of their relationship because he forced her to use the website to recruit other children for him, the court papers claim.
The young girl was told she could stop sending Fordyce images at any time she wanted, but if she did, he threatened to leak the photos to her family and friends and told her she’d get in trouble with her parents, school and the police.
For three years, Fordyce held this threat over A.M.’s head. It wasn’t until January 2018, when members of a Canadian police force contacted her parents to tell them the pervert had been arrested for child pornography and images of their daughter had been found in his stash.
A.M. and her attorneys said Omegle is responsible for the abuse the child suffered because it’s where she met Fordyce and if they had employed mechanisms to prevent kids from matching with adults or other safety features, she never would’ve been abused by him.
“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,” A.M., who is now 19, told The Post in a statement through her attorneys.
“This lawsuit is bigger than me, 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,” she said.
The suit claims Omegle is aware that predators are all over their website, but that it puts the onus on users to protect themselves.
“Predators have been known to use Omegle, so please be careful,” the website’s homepage stated through May 2021 before the line was taken down, right around the time A.M.’s attorneys sent a preservation letter to the company.
While that line has since been removed from the website, the suit states Omegle still “flouts the dangers of its product” on its homepage by acknowledging that users “may not behave appropriately” and their moderation “is not perfect.”
Omegle didn’t return a request for comment.
Lawyers Carrie Goldberg and Barb Long told The Post they were proud of their client for “channeling her pain to make the world safer for others.”
“Omegle’s popular use is for online sex 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,” the attorneys said in a joint 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.”