A 13-year-old girl was found in Georgia after she was allegedly kidnapped, held for nine days and raped by an adult man she met on Roblox. Police arrested Howard Graham after discovering he had convinced the girl to leave her Kansas home – after just two days talking on the app – by saying he would come pick her up.
Captain John Ivey of the Clayton County Police Department told a news conference (by the Miami Herald) that Graham and the girl met through Roblox on February 18. On February 20, she left her home in Topeka, Kansas, where Graham picked her up before taking her approximately 900 miles to her home in Clayton County, Georgia.
Police said they believed the young woman was subsequently sexually assaulted “many times”. As recounted by Captain Ivey, she texted her mother via Roblox on February 24, sharing the address of a Dollar General store where she was taken.
After investigations, police arrested Graham at his job on March 1. The 33-year-old man was charged with sex trafficking, kidnapping and rape.
“We are very lucky to have found this young woman and she is alive,” said Captain Ivey. “I wish people would pay more attention to what their children are doing. Predators will continue to prey on young children.”
The scale of Roblox is hard to overstate: in a recent financial report, the company estimated its daily number of active users. an astonishing 54.7 million people. However, it faces ongoing criticism over how it protects its overwhelmingly young audience. Several investigations have suggested the platform is an unsafe place for children before this point and your young users can easily find sexually explicit content— although these investigations concern scams, theft of content and inappropriate material. It would be unfair to confuse Roblox’s moderation and content issues with something as serious as alleged kidnapping and rape. That said: this is as bad as it gets.
child abduction It’s rare in the US: “fewer than 350 people under the age of 21 have been kidnapped by strangers in the United States each year since 2010.” This statistic is in the context of a country of 329.5 million people. This incident should not be underestimated, but at the same time it should be seen as extraordinarily unusual: rather than a sign that there is an underreported pandemic of Roblox hijackings.
On a statement given to the BBC, Roblox Corporation spokesman James Kay said the company was “deeply saddened” by the case. “There is nothing more important to parents – including the many parents who work at Roblox – than ensuring children are safe when they learn and play, 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. While we have not been contacted by the authorities regarding this case, we have always cooperated with the authorities’ requests and promptly reported any suspicious behavior to the relevant organizations.”