Sexual predators are allegedly using a popular online gaming platform to meet and groom primary school children in Australia, according to a submission made by a safety organisation to a parliamentary inquiry on child exploitation.
Roblox is an online gaming platform used by tens of millions of people across the world every day. It is popular among Australian schoolchildren.
What is Roblox?
Roblox is an online gaming platform especially popular with children up to 12. There are millions of games in Roblox – the platform allows users to create their own games and talk to other players online.
The games are played with avatars, which users create to represent themselves in the game.
It was released in 2006 and is available on consoles such as Xbox and PC. Roblox says there are 66 million users on the platform every day, with revenue for the last month estimated to be up to $AU331 million.
The Parliamentary inquiry
The parliamentary inquiry on child exploitation was established in 2021. This was due to concerns about a spike in online predators during the pandemic and the use of new predatory techniques to evade law enforcement.
It has heard hearings and submissions from people involved with preventing child exploitation in Australia. TikTok and Twitch have both detailed their work to stop exploitation on their platforms to the inquiry.
The committee overseeing the inquiry will review the feedback, which could inform future legislation.
The submission on Roblox safety
Kirra Pendergast, the founder of the Safe on Social group that made the submission, said Roblox is being used as a first point of contact for predators.
She said “hundreds and hundreds” of children tell her every week via online safety programs at Australian schools that they’re being approached by strangers on Roblox.
The submission says children are often asked to take part in roleplaying games or be the stranger’s boyfriend or girlfriend. Moving the conversation to applications such as TikTok or Snapchat, where private messaging is available, has also been raised.
Paying for role-playing on Roblox
Pendergast said that some users were offering children money to perform sexual acts. This was done through the in-game ‘Robux’ currency.
This could include being paid Robux to play a role-playing game, such as being ‘adopted’ or lying down on top of another avatar.
She said young children are subject to nude or semi-nude avatars while playing role-playing games in Roblox. They could also be exposed to sexual acts or simulated sex between avatars.
Is Roblox safe?
Roblox warns content could be unsuitable for young children, but largely due to violence and the portrayal of blood.
Roblox told TDA they have an “expert team of thousands” monitoring safety on the platform. They also said safety reviews on every image, video or audio file uploaded to Roblox are undertaken before it can be posted online.
They also have chat filters to block inappropriate words from being shared. Users can also mute people who make them uncomfortable.
Roblox said they don’t tolerate users that endanger or sexualise children “in any way”. They added there are protocols in place to “swiftly catch anyone attempting to circumvent our strict rules”.
Every grooming allegation raised to Roblox is subject to a “prompt and thorough” investigation. Any abusive material they find is shared with child exploitation corporations and law enforcement bodies.
Roblox didn’t tell TDA if they had seen Safe on Social’s submission. They also didn’t say if they intended on making their own submission to the inquiry.
Sexual abuse crackdown in Australia
Social and online media giants have been told to explain their online child sexual abuse safety procedures to Australia’s eSafety Commissioner.
Meta, Twitter, TikTok, and Twitch are some of the platforms served with these legal notices.
eSafety told TDA they hadn’t issued a legal notice to Roblox, but didn’t rule out doing so in the future. They’re in “regular contact” with Roblox about online safety, and are planning on issuing notices to more platforms in the coming months.