INDIANAPOLIS - Police in Indianapolis launched a criminal investigation into sexual chats between an adult and a child using a growing mobile chat application that has sparked widespread concerns about sexual predators.
An east Indianapolis mother told police that her 15-year-old daughter has autism and was not permitted to own a phone, yet the mother said she found a secret HTC Virgin Mobile cellphone in her daughter's possession on Thursday.
When the mother began searching through the phone, she said she found her daughter had been chatting with several males, including at least one adult who may be in his late 20s.
The teenager participated in the chats using a mobile messenger application known as Kik.
The service allows users to download the application onto a smartphone and then set up a screen name to chat with other users around the world.
The app has sparked concerns about pedophiles targeting children in Great Britain and in other parts of the United States over the past few months.
In May, several schools in the U.K. were placed on alert for a so-called "Chat App Pervert" using Kik to pursue children.
News reports at the time said the Canadian-based app refused to provide police with information about its subscribers as part of that investigation.
The company told British news organizations that it has several safety features, including a "block user" function to allow someone to stop receiving messages from certain users.
The firm also said its phone numbers and actual user account information are kept confidential, with the service relying only on made-up user names.
The company claims people cannot identify the person they are chatting with unless the person shares that information with them.
In the Indianapolis teen's case, police said the girl was chatting with a user who called himself "David P," but it was unclear where he was located.
Police wrote in their report that a picture of the man included a photo of his face that appeared to be a male between 23 and 28 years of age.
The teenage victim told police she never shared her real name or address with the man. She also told police she had never met the man in real life.
The girl claimed she started chatting with the man a couple days before her secret phone was discovered by her mother. She said she did tell the man that she was only 15 years old, and she said the man continued his chats. She said several conversations centered around her age.
The girl also told police that the man was sending sexually explicit photos of himself, both before and after she mentioned her age. Officers also found the girl had used the app to send nude pictures of herself to the adult male. Receiving sexually explicit photos of a child through electronic communications is a federal felony child pornography crime.
Police wrote in their report that they reviewed a number of the chats in the Kik app on the girl's phone, and many involved the man spelling out various sex acts he wanted to perform with the child.
Officers seized the girl's phone for evidence as they work to identify the adult for possible criminal charges. The teen claimed she bought the phone at school.
As the application was growing in popularity beyond Canada and the U.K., a police investigation was launched in Conway, Ark., in September, when a child was found having sexual chats with an adult.
The adult male was tracked down in Texas, where he admitted to police that he had been having sexual chats with the Arkansas victim. He was not immediately charged with a crime.