Child Groomers Using Video Games to Lure Their Victims
Wed, April 21, 2021

Child Groomers Using Video Games to Lure Their Victims

Twitch is one of the most common places where children encounter adults online who ask them to send explicit materials / Photo by: Daniel Benavides via Wikimedia Commons

 

The world could be a very scary place for children, and real events have shown that it can be very dangerous as well. Even in places that we believe are normally safe for them like the school or the local neighborhood, dangers could just be lurking around such as predators that solely victimize children. The company behind Net Nanny, a content-control software suite marketed primarily toward parents as a way to monitor and control their child's computer and phone activity, revealed that predators have up their games and are now using video games to lure innocent children. 

According to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), Twitch is one of the most common places where children encounter adults online who ask them to send explicit materials. Popular media sites such as Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter are also included in the list. 

Twitch, an Amazon-owned site, allows users to make a live stream of themselves playing video games. This has become a popular thing for those into video games since it enables them to watch their favorite gamers playing the most popular video games in real-time. 

What Is Child Grooming?

The NSPCC described “grooming” as an act of building a relationship, trust, and emotional connection with a young person with the intention to manipulate and exploit them. Child predators use grooming for their nefarious purpose, and they can be anyone such as someone close to the child or their parents. 

Groomers also build a relationship with other people close to their targeted victims in order to establish their trustworthiness and make those people at ease.

In their website, the NSPCC mentioned that young people can easily fall prey to groomers online. Groomers usually hide their identity or mask their intentions with innocent words so that the victim will be convinced to send photos and even videos of themselves. 

When these predators finally win the child’s trust, they will isolate them from their friends and family. They will plant ideas in the child’s mind that will make them feel dependent on them. Once they succeed, the groomer will have the power and control over the child. Parents must be alert if they notice their child starting to show changes in their behavior, such as becoming secretive or dismissive. 

The NSPCC described “grooming” as an act of building a relationship, trust, and emotional connection with a young person with the intention to manipulate and exploit them / Photo by: goodluz via 123RF

 

Actions Against Groomers

“The boundaries between social networking and gaming sites are becoming increasingly blurred. And Twitch, like all apps that allow two-way communication and live streaming, presents particular risks to children of being groomed,” said Andy Burrows, the NSPCC head of child safety online policy, in an interview. 

Telegraph UK, a national British daily broadsheet newspaper, stated in an article that the NSPCC found out in a survey that Twitch and Twitter are tied for being the second most common sites where children have received or been asked to send sexual material to an adult online. The charity immediately called the attention of the social media and tech companies to put in place safeguards and help them catch groomers online.

Since there are a lot of games that allow players to communicate with others, tech and crime experts are also teaming up to set an investigation that will lead to policies that will keep young people safe against sexual exploitation online. Dr. Darshana Jayemanne, a lecturer in art, media, and games at the Abertay University School of Design and Informatics, is also joining the said project that will focus on finding a way to eliminate groomers on the internet. 

Discussions will be made as the companies will examine new standards for game designers. Tech companies are also trying to find ways to foil groomers such as switching off location tracking, setting up parental controls, and preventing “nudge techniques” that are used to encourage children to provide personal data. 

Fortnite Used in Child Grooming

A report from the BBC mentioned that Anthony Gene Thomas, a 41-year-old man from Broward County, was accused of using the popular video game Fortnite to initiate sexual activity with children and of having sexual relations with a minor. He was also found in possession of indecent photographs and videos of the victim. Police authorities claimed that Thomas had an accomplice that used Fortnite’s video game feature to meet and introduce children to him. They also believed that there could be up to 20 victims. 

Thomas was said to have been grooming a 17-year-old kid using cash and gifts and that he even gave the child a mobile phone that was used for their communication with one another. In August 2018, they finally met in person and Thomas brought the child to his home where the sexual offenses were committed. After the parents reported that their child was missing, the police, fortunately, was able to locate the child immediately.

This case shows that parents and children alike should be mindful of the strangers they meet online. If possible, parents must turn off the game’s voice chat system or allow it to be on only when they are around and can hear their children’s conversation with others as they play. 

A report from the BBC mentioned that Anthony Gene Thomas, a 41-year-old man from Broward County, was accused of using the popular video game Fortnite to initiate sexual activity with children and of having sexual relations with a minor / Photo by: Sergey Galyonkin via Wikimedia Commons