n Child Abuse Research in South Africa - Safeguarding children from becoming victims of online sexual abuse facilitated by virtual worlds

Volume 16, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1562-1383



Virtual worlds have become a regular destination for children. Easy access and affordable fees enable children of all walks of life to participate in virtual worlds. Games specifically, appear to be a great attraction for young children in their use of the internet. While virtual worlds provide entertainment to many children, it also offers opportunities for sexual child offenders to access contact with vulnerable children. Aggressors can exploit all the possible communication channels of virtual worlds (chat, messengers, video and audio) to perpetrate virtual sexual abuse (sexual age play, virtual rape and pornography) via avatars, and traditional forms of online sexual abuse (exposure to sexually explicit/harmful content, the creation, storage and distribution of real child pornography, and online solicitation which can lead to three devastating contact crimes: rape, sex tourism and child trafficking). Devoid of geographical borders and lacking in a universally agreed upon and accepted definition of both online child sexual abuse and virtual sexual abuse, law enforcement can do little should an abuse become known. This is largely due to disparities in the laws that govern each country. It becomes imperative for parents and caregivers to engage with their children in discussions of safety and for the collaboration of parents, schools, virtual world operators and law enforcement to join in efforts to prevent such abuse, especially in the case of child-headed homes where there is no primary parental supervision. This article aims to provide an understanding of how virtual worlds facilitate such abuse, and provides measures to counter such abuse; it does not aim to offer an analysis of such thereof.

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