Warning to parents over Discord chat after Canadian travels to Australia to abuse 14-year-old – ABC News

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Warning to parents over Discord chat after Canadian travels to Australia to abuse 14-year-old
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Parents are being warned to be aware of their children's online activity after a Canadian man used the free text and video-chat service Discord to groom a 14-year-old Australian girl before flying to her home city to meet her.
WARNING: This story contains graphic details which may be disturbing for some readers.
Michelangelo Pereira Huezo, 36, met the girl online in August 2018.
The District Court of Western Australia heard their messages quickly became sexual.
In one of them, Huezo asked the child if she wanted to see something cool, and when she agreed, sent her an image of himself naked.
He also sent her images of his erect penis.
The pair communicated via video chat and in one instance Huezo masturbated in the shower while asking the child to "speak dirty to him".
After another video call in which Huezo masturbated during the chat, the child's sister heard what was happening.
The court heard the teenager had an eating disorder and Huezo promised to buy her laxatives and a mobile phone.
He also told her he was in love with her.
On Friday he was sentenced to four years in jail.
Huezo arrived in Perth in October 2018, and took the teenager to his accommodation where he gave her gifts and committed indecent acts.
He was charged with seven counts of using electronic communication to expose a child to an indecent matter, and four counts of indecent dealing with a child.
He was acquitted of a fifth charge of indecent dealing.
His lawyer Nicholas van Hattem read a letter written by his client, in which Huezo said he had never before been in trouble with the law.
He claimed he came to Australia to explore job opportunities with the intent to potentially make it his home.
Prosecutor Cameron Henderson disputed that, saying the communications between Huezo and the victim showed he came to Australia to see her.
"Mr Huezo groomed her into a sexually based relationship," Mr Cameron said.
"[The victim] was clearly a very vulnerable child. He knew about her eating disorder and he took advantage of her."
District Court Judge Andrew Stavrianou said it had been established by the Court of Appeal that the seriousness of the offences would attract an immediate prison term.
He sentenced Huezo to a total of four years in jail.
Do you know more about this story? Contact Rebecca Trigger
Former WA police officer turned online safety expert Paul Litherland described Discord as a little like Zoom but used primarily by gamers.
Users create their own public or private chat spaces and can audio or video-conference while they are playing a computer game.
However he said it was increasingly being used as an online hangout space.
If children are on a "private" server they can choose who to give access to.
But there are countless public servers where children can join chats in which they meet people interested in the same topics.
"If there's a public server on Discord where people are discussing and playing Minecraft, then anyone can basically enter that room and interact with those other users in there.
"Someone can pretend to be another child, they can go into a public service, start talking common interests with other kids, which is a clear method for groomers and predators."
He said there was a lot of non-gaming content.
"You can create any server on Discord and throw that out onto the network," he said.
"There's obviously clearly gaming experiences or environments … but you've also got self harm, you've got people dealing with eating disorders, you've got a lot of child porn networks as well."
Mr Litherland said online environments such as Discord were frustrating from an educative point of view.
"It's almost entrapment for our kids to sort of wander into these worlds and have that freedom," he said.
He urged parents to sit down with their children to find out where they are going online, and help educate them about the risks of public online spaces.
"It's just sitting down as often as we can, having conversations with our kids in regards to what they're using, where they are going," he said.
"Making sure that the servers and environments that our kids are interacting in, are moderated.
"And more importantly, they're the ones which are with other kids or other people they definitely know."
In a statement, a spokesperson for Discord said the platform works "relentlessly to keep bad actors off our service".
"We take the safety of all Discord users, especially our younger users, incredibly seriously," the statement read.
"We have zero tolerance for child exploitation and take immediate action when we become aware of it, including banning users, shutting down servers, and when appropriate, engaging with the proper authorities."
1800 Respect, National counselling helpline: 1800 737 732
Bravehearts, counselling and support for survivors of child sexual abuse: 1800 272 831
Child Wise, counselling provider: 1800 991 099
Lifeline, 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention: 13 11 14
Care Leavers Australia Network: 1800 008 774
PartnerSPEAK, peer support for non-offending partners: (03) 9018 7872
We acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians and Traditional Custodians of the lands where we live, learn, and work.
This service may include material from Agence France-Presse (AFP), APTN, Reuters, AAP, CNN and the BBC World Service which is copyright and cannot be reproduced.
AEST = Australian Eastern Standard Time which is 10 hours ahead of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time)

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