Teenagers are using a popular smartphone app to arrange sexual encounters with strangers.
Tinder, a popular app with an age restriction of 13 and above, allows users to “like” or “pass” on fellow users’ profiles based on their picture, with a mutual like opening the possibility to chat via the app.
A Melbourne teenager, who attends a private school in Melbourne’s east and wants to remain anonymous, said the app was being used by “teens to find other teens who are interested in getting physical with no emotional connection”.
“Every person I know who has used Tinder has been asked for sex,” the 16-year-old said.
She said she knew teenagers as young as 15 who were using the app.
“All the girls I know have spoken to mainly older guys, around one or two years older. And the guys speak to anyone they can.
“It starts off with general chit-chat usually, and then it slips into talking purely about sex and physical stuff and then often they eventually arrange to meet up.”
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Another Melbourne teenager said she joined Tinder when she was 17 and was “always” asked for sex via the app.
“A lot of teenagers use Tinder as a way to get sex,” the now 18-year-old said.
“There’s a lot of people locally on Tinder, like from the next suburb away, or the western suburbs.”
La Trobe university professor Anne Mitchell, author of the National Survey of Australian Secondary Students and Sexual Health report released last month, said it was “neither safe nor desirable” for teenagers to use apps to facilitate sex with strangers.
“I think it is quite inappropriate for 13-year-olds to have access to such an app but these things are very hard to police,” Ms Mitchell said.
A Tinder spokeswoman said 7 per cent of Tinder users globally were 13 to 17 years old but could not provide exact figures for Australia.
To “protect young users” aged 13 to 17, they can only connect with other users in that same age range, the spokeswoman said.
However, there appears to be nothing stopping users from changing their date of birth on their Facebook account, which Tinder requires to create a profile, before registering.
A 40-year-old Facebook user could change their date of birth to the year 2000, register for Tinder and misrepresent themselves as a 13-year-old.
Inspector Stephen Dennis from the Victoria Police Child Exploitation Taskforce did not comment on Tinder specifically but said there had been “many” reported incidents of persons over 18 contacting minors via social media, pretending to be younger than their actual age.
“There are individuals trying to engage with children online by posing as children themselves and trying to befriend particularly vulnerable children,” he said.
The Tinder spokeswoman said Facebook has security measures in place to verify authenticity.
“Tinder pulls users first name, age, profile picture, friends and interests directly from Facebook,” she said.
“Our security team monitors our users’ profiles and looks for suspicious accounts. They delete any profile that violates our terms of service.”
Inspector Dennis said parents needed to be vigilant regarding their children’s online activities.