Online child abuse triples over pandemic; pedophiles using gaming headsets

Cyber safety expert says 'gaming dangers far outweigh traditional social media dangers'

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – Sex offenders are using popular games like Fortnite or Minecraft to seduce children. It’s become a serious problem especially since gaming usage has skyrocketed during the pandemic. 

Just this month, Kentucky State Police arrested a man using PlayStation to solicit sex acts from children prompting News 40 to investigate.

Observer Research Foundation data shows that since the pandemic began, online sexual abuse and exploitation of children has risen globally, in certain countries, up to 400 percent.

Veteran Cyber Cop Mike Lemon developed Cyber Safe Families to protect kids from the voices on the other side of the headset.

“The number of kids being exploited is at least three times higher than it was a few years ago,” Lemon reported.

Lemon says gaming is by far more dangerous than traditional social media sites.

“If you are a bad guy, if you’re a predator and you’re trying to talk to a child when you’re sending messages, screenshots,… pictures, video, that’s all recorded by Facebook, Instagram or TikTok, so that can be used as evidence, but when you’re actually gaming and talking live, none of that is recorded,” he explained. “For predators this is actually an insurance policy that whatever they’re doing, whatever they’re saying, won’t be used against them in court.”

In the United States, Online Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation Unit’s cases more than doubled in the first half of 2020, compared to early 2019 and this year.

Kentucky State Police says taking the time to learn who your kids are talking to on their headsets goes a long way.

“It’s scary for parents,” said KSP Post 3 Trooper Daniel Priddy. “I have parents all the time asking about what can they do to help make sure their kids stay safe.”

Priddy says proactively establishing what information is off limits to share is a good way to start.

“Make sure they know how important it is to not give personal information out, not to give any type of photos or videos or anything like that to people online that they don’t know,” he advised. “And just because you know someone online doesn’t mean you know who it really is. That’s very important for kids to know before they even start going down the avenue of going online and playing these online games.”

Lemon says setting up parental controls can stop your child from becoming a victim.

“It’s going to be up to the parents to really fight this fight,” Lemon conceded. “You can set up a lot of these games to where they may be online playing with other people but their account is private and they’re limited in being able to chat with people being or able to talk to them with their voice.”

Both men say the best thing you can do is just be involved and earn their trust so that their faith doesn’t end up in the wrong hands.