Late last month, a Raleigh, North Carolina, mom was reading a book while her 7-year-old daughter sat next to her playing an online video game on her iPad.
“At first, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” Amber Petersen wrote in a Facebook post warning other parents about what happened to her daughter, Brooklyn. “Words cannot describe the shock, disgust and guilt that I am feeling right now.” Her post, which contains some explicit screenshots of the assault in its comments, has been shared over 6,000 times.
Brooklyn was playing the popular online game Roblox where players virtually interact with others using building block-like avatars. What Amber saw was Brooklyn’s avatar being sexually assaulted by two other player’s avatars.
“My sweet and innocent daughter’s avatar was being VIOLENTLY GANG-RAPED ON A PLAYGROUND by two males,” Amber wrote on her post. “A female observer approached them and proceeded to jump on her body at the end of the act. Then the three characters ran away, leaving my daughter’s avatar laying on her face in the middle of the playground.”
In a statement, Roblox said the company was “outraged” and that they had identified how the bad actor had “created the offending action.” The company said that it’s putting “additional safeguards in place to reduce the possibility of this happening again in the future.”
Not the First Roblox Complaint
But it’s happened before on the online platform that’s dubbed the “number one gaming website” for kids.
Just a few days earlier, an Australian mother said her 6-year-old daughter entered a so-called “sex room” level showing dozens of virtual characters engaging in sex. A quick Internet search shows similar complaints including parents who say their children have been sent “creepy messages” by some players.
Following the Australian incident Roblox told Newsweek in a statement, “A Roblox game, which can be built from millions of building blocks, can be vast. Before a game is published, our moderation team reviews all content uploaded into the game—such as photos, videos and sound files. While we can’t review everything that has been built within the game, we do react quickly to inappropriate content once it is published.
“In this case, the offending game was taken down immediately after we became aware of it, and the developer that built that game has been banned from the platform. We have zero tolerance for this behavior. Our work to ensure a safe platform is always evolving and remains a top priority for us.”
The platform has additional advice for parents: “While the imagery on Roblox has a blocky, digitized look, parents should be aware that some of the user-generated games […] may include themes and/or imagery that may be too intense for young or sensitive players,” a parental safety guide warns. Under a section for predatory behavior, it advises: “Talk to your child about online grooming, including what it is and what to watch out for.”
The Australian mother said she had to update the security settings on her daughter’s Roblox account to protect her from adult content and reports that the sex room has been removed.
Roblox has close to 70 million monthly active users of various ages, but it is especially popular with children under 12. Tami Bhaumik is the head of marketing and community safety for Roblox. She told TODAY Parents, “It encourages children to create their own games within the platform that allow them to have unique adventures, role play and even build friendships that often transcend the virtual world.”
In May of this year, the website was reportedly blocked in the United Arab Emirates over inappropriate content issues.