(WKBW release) New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman on Wednesday announced that over 2,100 additional accounts of registered sex offenders have been purged from online gaming platforms as part of “Operation: Game Over,” a first-of-its-kind initiative to protect children from predators on online gaming networks.
According to a news release:
Five additional companies, including Gaia Online, NCSOFT Corporation, FunCon and THQ, Inc., have agreed to participate. Wednesday's announcement builds on Attorney General Schneiderman’s original agreement earlier this year that led to more than 3,500 accounts of registered sex offenders purged from other major online gaming companies including Microsoft, Apple, Blizzard Entertainment, Electronic Arts, Disney Interactive Media Group, Warner Brothers and Sony.
“The Internet is the crime scene of the 21st century, and we must ensure that online video game platforms do not become a digital playground for dangerous predators. That means doing everything possible to block sex offenders from using gaming systems as a vehicle to prey on underage victims,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “I applaud the online gaming companies that have purged registered sex offenders from their networks in time for the holiday season. Together, we are making the online community a safer place for the children of New York.”
Under New York State’s Electronic Securing and Targeting of Online Predators Act (e-STOP) law, convicted sex offenders must register all of their e-mail addresses, screen names, and other Internet identifiers with the state. That information is then made available to certain websites so they can purge potential predators from their online worlds. Operation: Game Over is the first time e-STOP has been applied to online gaming platforms.
Many online video game platforms allow users to access the Internet and send messages to other players anonymously. Parents often do not realize that gaming consoles have these capabilities, or that parental controls exist for these systems. According to the Pew Research Center, 97% of teens (12-17) play computer, web, portable, or console games and 27% of teens (12-17) play games with people they don’t know online.
More than 2,100 additional accounts of New York state sex offenders have been purged from the gaming platforms of additional companies including Gaia Online, NCSOFT Corporation, FunCon and THQ, Inc. The additional accounts include those from Sony, which had agreed to participate in the first phase of Operation: Game Over but was unable to complete the identification process by the announcement deadline.
Operation: Game Over coincides with recent incidents of sexual predators using voice and text chat functions in online gaming services to lure underage victims across the country. In 2011, a 19-year-old man in Monroe County was indicted on sexual abuse charges after allegedly meeting a 12-year-old boy on the popular online video game system Xbox Live. The man gained the boy’s trust over a period of three months, then invited the boy over to his house where the abuse occurred, according to police.
Laura A. Ahearn, L.M.S.W., Executive Director of Parents for Megan’s Law and the Crime Victims Center, said, “I applaud Attorney General Schneiderman for continuing this bold action to protect New York’s children from becoming victims. This is a groundbreaking effort that keeps the online community safer for our children, and sends a strong message that sexual predators can’t hide behind anonymous profiles online to prey on victims anymore.”
According to the Division of Criminal Justice Services, New York State has more than 34,000 registered sex offenders: 13,260 are level 1 registered offenders (lowest risk of repeat offense); 12,342 are level 2 registered offenders (moderate risk of repeat offense); 8,596 are level 3 registered sex offenders (high risk of repeat offense and a threat to public safety exists). There are a total of approximately 750,000 registered sex offenders in the United States.
Attorney General Schneiderman provided the following tips for parents to protect children from sexual predators from online video game networks:
• Choose games appropriate for your child’s age and maturity level;
• Use your game console’s parental controls (control which games can be played, for how long, and whether they can play online;
• Keep computer or game console in a public area of the home; and
• Talk to your kids about how to protect identifying information, and to avoid and report conversations that make them uncomfortable.