by Jonathan Laine
The holiday season has arrived. Now is the time to gather gifts for our loved ones. This is a warning about a new product that many may know about, but few understand. It’s been in the works for a long time, but it’s here now and relatively affordable. I’m talking about virtual reality.
How amazing to put on a visor and go to a different world. It is possible to easily meet and chat with anyone from anywhere on the planet. Inside virtual reality, you can be almost anything. Try being a different gender, race, or species, a ghost, a monster, a favorite movie or video game character, or a combination of these.
Many of our children are virtually unsupervised while exploring these unknown landscapes. Within this new experience, there are predators. These predators have their eyes on our young ones. Even worse, our young ones have eyes on them. These malicious actors may pose as any seemingly harmless being, and even change their voice to sound childlike or non-threatening. Our children may interact with these people, sometimes over the course of weeks, months, or years. Many young people fully trust those they have met online, not realizing the extent that some individuals can and will go to deceive their potential victims.
It can start slowly, as it does with child grooming. Children are often helping others in virtual environments, as well as being helped by others. A simple interaction is all it takes to begin the progressive process toward a bad actor’s nefarious goals.
Child: “Hey, thanks! I couldn’t figure that out.”
Predator: “No problem. Come check out this room over here.”
What are in these rooms? What could our children be exposed to by following a new “friend?” We don’t know. This isn’t a normal video game. Rooms are created by players for any purpose. Some are mini-games. Some are created to view movies or otherwise just hang out. Some rooms are created specifically to expose young people to virtual sex. It doesn’t take much to move from a game playing paintball to a room filled with sex toys and characters with exaggerated body parts performing unfathomable acts on each other. There are instances of young girls and boys being virtually gang raped by groups of older “players.”
What does viewing these experiences do to the child’s developing mind? What about actually being the victim of virtual rape? The shame that can result from these horrible acts may cause children to feel that they are at fault. Once the child feels implicit, perpetrators have been known to blackmail the children into giving them whatever they want. There are stories of children being abducted as a result of this type of child grooming. The outcomes tend to be darker these days with sex trafficking, drug smuggling, and God forbid, organ harvesting. The truth is, our children have become a commodity for those who would use them and later discard them to the streets or worse.
To be clear, this isn’t just a virtual reality problem. Social media platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat are also hotspots for the grooming and sexual predation of our children. So, when you are thinking that your child needs privacy, does it come at the expense of their safety? Know what your children are doing on any and all of these types of platforms. Consider setting restrictions to access online environments to hours that you are able to monitor what your family is doing. This includes computers, smartphones, tablets, and any internet-connected devices.
Talk with your children and your community members about these potential dangers. It is a strange, new world that we live in, let us attempt to create a positive future for our families. This holiday season, be sure to give the best gifts of all, your attention and care.