A leading cyber safety expert is warning parents Snapchat is the platform of choice for sexual predators and there is no safe way for children to use the platform.
The warning comes after a Ballarat man was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment at the County Court on Monday for using Snapchat to groom girls as young as nine and request sexual images.
Cyber safety expert Susan McLean said people thought they could get away with sexualised communication with children via Snapchat because content disappeared from the screen.
It is an app of choice of predators which we have seen time and time again.Susan McLean, cyber safety expert
Ms McLean, a former Victoria Police member, said Snapchat did leave a trace of messages behind and that information could be accessed in forensic investigations, but it was not a safe platform for children.
"Two forensic pediatricians started to look at the link between technology and child sexual abuse and basically found Snapchat was a feature in every victims life they dealt with," she said.
Ms McLean said there had been an increase in the incidence of online sexual solicitation of children through social media during the coronavirus pandemic.
eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant previously told media there has been a 90 per cent increase in reports of online child sex abuse to her office since the pandemic started.
"Children have been online more and predators have been online more so it is a perfect storm," Mc McLean said.
"Many parents last year allowed their children onto platforms they shouldn't have been on under the guise of keeping in contact with people.
"There is always a way to keep up communication on a platform that is designed for children rather than an adult platform where you are putting your child at risk."
Ms McLean said the legal age to have a Snapchat account was 13 and for children above that age, parents should still consider saying no.
"I had a primary school reach out with girls on Snapchat who had left Snap Map on and random men sending them a screenshot of their address," she said.
"It can be a particularly dangerous app. It is an app of choice of predators which we have seen time and time again.
"Every parent I have dealt with who has had an issue on Snapchat with predators firmly wishes they can turn the clock back and wishes they said no.
"Don't put your child in a known place of risk. There is no really safe way to use it.
"This should be a wake up call to all parents that this can happen anywhere."
A man faced the Ballarat Magistrates' Court on Friday for sentencing after he sent sexualised messages to a 13-year-old girl on Snapchat.
He attempted to persuade the girl to meet up with him but 'thankfully' it never eventuated.
In May, a former Ballarat man pleaded guilty to distributing a video of him sexually assaulting a child in a Warrnambool motel room after they had communicated and agreed to meet up on Snapchat.
Ms McLean said vulnerable children were more at risk because they were more likely to take predators' 'bait'.
"They are lonely, they are more likely to be having difficulties at home, they don't have supervision, they are more at risk so they will take the bait and away we go," she said.
"Good kids from good households who have involved parents can still be groomed online. If the predator starts a conversation, it is psychological grooming.
"The child may say something like I fought with my mum last night, and immediately that is an in.
"The predator would have fought with their mum and they get to the point where they become the most important person in that child's world and they isolate them from their friends and family."