7-year-old’s avatar sexually assaulted on “family-friendly” Roblox

Roblox, a gaming site for kids and teens, says it’s the largest user-generated online gaming platform. It calls itself “a family-friendly, immersive, 3D environment.”

A North Carolina mother is calling it something else entirely after she watched her 7-year-old’s avatar being “violently gang-raped on a playground” by two male players’ avatars… And then witnessing the female avatar of an onlooker jump on her daughter’s avatar when the virtual rapists were through.

Amber Petersen said in a 28 June Facebook post that she and her husband had thought they had done due diligence when they allowed their daughter to play the game. She noted that Roblox is rated Pan European Game Information (PEGI) 7: PEGI being a European video game content rating system that assigns age recommendations and content descriptions. Hence, a PEGI 7-rated game such as Roblox should be appropriate for those children who are at least 7 years old.

The game has a multiplayer online gaming platform in which users can create their own personal avatar and their own adventures, similar to Minecraft. Then, players can interact with each other in virtual reality.

Of particular interest to parents such as Petersen and her husband: Roblox has security settings that allow parents to block outside conversations and invitations. Moderators and automatic filters also block potentially inappropriate content.

Excellent: crank up the security! From Petersen’s post:

When my husband and I decided to allow our daughter to play this game, we adjusted the security settings to maximum privacy. Or at least we THOUGHT we did…

… but what security settings are there to prevent players from fashioning penises and using them to rape other players? Petersen, who took screen captures of what she witnessed (available in comments on her post), said that she was lying in bed with her daughter, reading aloud, while her daughter played her favorite game on her iPad.

All of a sudden, she stopped me from reading and showed me her screen.

At first, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

When the three avatars finished attacking her daughter’s avatar, they ran off, “leaving my daughter’s avatar laying on her face in the middle of the playground,” Petersen said.

Now, amidst feelings of shock, disgust and guilt, Petersen is urging other parents to delete the app, take another look at their devices and security settings, and, “better yet,” challenge their children to…

PUT AWAY THEIR SCREENS….AND READ!!! Books cannot be hacked, but sadly, I’ve learned the hard way that a child’s innocence can be just at the touch of a button.

Roblox has responded to the incident by cracking down even harder on potential “bad actors.” From a statement sent to Dailymail.com:

We were outraged to learn that Roblox’s community policies and Rules of Conduct were subverted.

We have identified how this bad actor created the offending action and are putting additional safeguards in place to reduce the possibility of this happening again in the future.

In addition, the offender was identified and has been permanently banned from the platform and we have suspended the game.

We have zero tolerance for this behavior. Our work to ensure a safe platform is always evolving and remains a top priority for us.

According to the Daily Mail, this isn’t the first time that safety on Roblox has come into question. Last month, an Australian mother reported that she saw her 6-year-old daughter invited into a virtual room to have virtual sex. Numerous pairs of avatars were having sex in the room. That mother, “Peggy,” immediately took the game away from her daughter but recorded the sexual act so that she could warn other parents.

Petersen says she too was able to shield her daughter from seeing the entire rape scene, but she says she’s shuddering to think that other kids could be exposed to this type of thing.

As such cases clearly show, protecting kids online gets tougher and tougher. Parents, unfortunately, it looks like this is just the latest in an evolving landscape, which already contains eavesdropping cuddly toys, games that double as child-stalking apps, and predators who’ll hide behind photos of your kid’s favorite celebrity, pretending to be Justin Bieber or whoever else they think will gain a child’s trust.

Got any tips for how you’re keeping your kids safe? Does it involve books and blank screens, by any chance? Do tell.

Image courtesy of Roblox.com