Report: US-Based Sex Offenders Use Online Games to Target Children in Canada

An interesting story via the Huffington Post (based on this CBC report) details sexual predators in the United States using online games and consoles to talk to children in Canada. This particular report focuses on Winnipeg, but it's not far-fetched to imagine that if it's happening in one province, it's happening to some degree in other provinces as well.

The story came to light after Winnipeg police investigated seven cases of online predators who attempted lure children through gaming consoles.

Det.-Sgt. Darren Oleksiuk of the Winnipeg Police Service’s Internet Child Exploitation (ICE) unit told the CBC police are made aware of new cases of luring through online gaming each month and have investigated seven recently. He claims that all but one of these cases involved a Winnipeg child interacting with a suspected predator in the United States.

Signy Arnason, the director of Cybertip.ca, told the CBC the organization has warned parents about predators using gaming consoles to contact children since 2005.

“It's a hard thing to get a statistic on, because […] stats, likely, are about people who have been arrested and not those who have attempted to approach kids and lure them online,” said Arnason.

Arnason also said kids are reluctant to tell their parents when such incidents occur because they are worried that their games will be taken away in the name of protecting them.

“[Children] almost feel like they're being penalized for letting their parents know what happened,” said Oleksiuk.

He adds that parents need to prepare their children to deal with such hazards while gaming.

CBC reporter Gosia Sawicka signed up for PlayStation Home, a free game accessible via the PlayStation 3, to see what would happen if she pretended to be a 13-year-old girl.

Sawicka explored the public areas of the game and interacted with other players. Sawicka that "within a matter of minutes" the fake 13-year-old girl was approached by several individuals and asked "sexually explicit questions, even after learning she was just 13."

Sawicka also received requests for photos, private message request and invitations to voice chat.

ESA Canada's director of public relations Julien Lavoie pointed out to CBC that members of his organization "care about the safety of users and gamers," but he stressed "parents and their kids should always use caution and vigilance when engaging with any form of connected media."

Of course, this all leads to potential laws in Canada to deal with this sort of stuff. Unlike the U.S., Canada has no laws that limit access to various online services like some states in the U.S. do. Many states requires sex offenders to register their usernames with a state agency, and in some cases they may be told that they are not allowed to use those services.

New York state is one of the first states to tackle the issue head on. In 2012, the Attorney General’s office asked several online gaming companies to ban accounts associated with registered sex-offenders. He called this Operation Game Over. It began in April 2012, and resulted in more than 5,500 of New York state’s sex offenders being removed from online games.

Source: Huffington Post, CBC

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