A 13-year-old girl was found in Georgia, in the southeastern United States, after allegedly being kidnapped, held against her will and raped by a grown man he met on Roblox. Police arrested Howard Graham after discovering that he had convinced the girl that she left her home in Kansas, just two days after speaking on the app, telling her that she would pick her up.
John Ivey of the Clayton County Police Department said at a news conference picked up by the Miami Herald that Graham and the girl had met through Roblox on February 18. On February 20, she left her home in Topeka, Kansas, where Graham picked her up, taking her almost 1,500 kilometers from his home.
Police said they believed the young woman was subsequently sexually assaulted “many times”. As told by Captain Ivey, she sent her mother a message through Roblox on February 24, sharing the address of a Dollar General store where she had been taken. Just these weeks the case began to become more popular, thanks to social networks.
Following investigations, police arrested Graham at his work on March 1. The 33-year-old has been charged with sex trafficking, kidnapping and rape.
“We were very lucky to have found this young lady and she was alive,” Ivey said. “I wish people would pay more attention to what their kids are doing. Predators will go ahead and prey on young children.”
It is difficult to measure the scale of Roblox, one of the most popular video games of the moment, especially among boys: in a recent financial report, the company estimated that its daily active users amount to the impressive figure of 54.7 million people.
However, it faces ongoing criticism over how it protects its overwhelmingly young audience. Several investigations have suggested that the platform is an unsafe place for children before this point, and its young users can easily find sexually explicit content, although these investigations refer to scams, content theft and inappropriate material.
According to the United States media, the kidnapping of children is a rare event in the country: “Less than 350 people under the age of 21 have been kidnapped by strangers in the United States per year since 2010”, in a country of 329.5 million of people.
Roblox, in the eye of the storm
The controversial rooms of Roblox. photo roblox
Roblox is one of the most popular video games among boys. With over 200 million active users, it’s a metaverse where friends can meet, hang out, share experiences and chat. But it has a big problem: that of moderation and the large number of sex parties and fetishism that are going around: more than half of those users are under 13 years old.
The game has become a fun outlet to keep children busy and connected with their friends, especially during the pandemic that has led to worldwide lockdowns. In fact, from this the company went public.
However, it does have some dark corners. In some games, player avatars simulate sex, have raunchy conversations, and “hang out” with other avatars. While much of this isn’t new, Roblox’s explosive growth has drawn attention to what’s going on at the margins, and the responsibility the company has to protect its young audience.
“Roblox is now working on developing content ratings for games and ways to make parental controls easier to find and use,” said Remy Malan, vice president of trust and safety at Roblox and its chief privacy officer on last year in statements to the Wall Street Journal.
This is a problem that even exceeds this platform, but also metaverses in general: at the beginning of the month, a woman reported that her avatar was raped in a virtual ecosystem.
Roblox’s statement on the case
Roblox, a platform where other games can be created. photo roblox
The company issued the following statement:
There is nothing more important to parents, including the many parents who work on Roblox, than ensuring that children are safe when learning and playing, online or offline. We work tirelessly to prevent grooming on our platform. We have strict security systems and a team of thousands of moderators who enforce a strict set of community standards on Roblox, including zero tolerance for sexual content of any kind.
Although we have not been contacted by the authorities about this case, we always cooperate with law enforcement requests and immediately report any suspicious behavior to the relevant organizations.