Real Crimes Against Children Reported In Second Life

Linden Lab, the company that develops and operates Second Life, says it will work with authorities to help bring the virtual and real-life pedophiles to justice.

Mitch Wagner, California Bureau Chief, Light Reading

May 10, 2007

4 Min Read

German authorities are investigating simulated child molestation and real child pornography in Second life.

According to a report on the Second Life child pornography investigation in the U.K. newspaper The Guardian, "Investigators in the city of Halle are acting on specific information about a German Second Life player, or avatar, who put child pornography images up for sale and paid for sex with underage players or players posing as minors."

Linden Lab will cooperate fully with the child pornography investigation, the company said in a statement on its official blog: "If Linden Lab learns that someone is engaging in, advertising or promoting locations or activities involving the depiction of sexual or lewd acts involving minors, their account will be terminated, and we will fully cooperate with all appropriate authorities," the company said. The users will also be banned permanently from Second Life.

Linden Lab says it was was contacted a week ago, May 3, by German television Network ARD, which had captured images of two avatars, one resembling an adult male and another resembling a child, engaged in depicted sexual conduct. Linden Lab discovered the avatars belonged to a 54-year-old man and 27-year-old woman, who were immediately banned from Second Life, the company said.

A day later, on Friday, May 4, an ARD reporter presented photos that he said were found in Second Life, and that looked like child pornography, Linden Lab said.

ARD said it passed the images to a state attorney in Halle, according to Linden Lab. The company says it's tried to contact German authorities, which is its standard procedure if it gets reports of images of child pornography in Second life, but it hasn't received a response. Linden Lab said it's asked ARD and the German authorities to disclose the location of the photos, but neither ARD nor the authorities did so. Linden Lab said it's been unable to independently locate the images.

Linden Lab coordinates with official youth protection bodies such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in the United States, and similar organizations in other countries, the company said.

Simulated sex with children is not a crime in the U.S., but punishable with up to five years in prison in Germany.

Linden Lab says it won't allow erotic ageplay: "We simply [will not tolerate the depiction of sexual or lewd acts involving minors in Second Life," the company said in its statement on its blog.

Sex is a big part of Second Life, as it is with every medium. Participants in sex in the virtual world -- known as "cybering" in Second Life jargon -- can make their avatars look like anything they want, and create software renderings of whatever equipment they want to use. They write or buy scripts to make the avatars go through the motions of sexual contact. Participants send each other erotic text messages using the in-world chat system, or they engage in phone sex using the conventional phone system or Skype. Much of the sex in Second Life is bondage-related.

Many users -- known as "residents" in Second Life jargon -- pay a few U.S. dollars per hour for cybering with a virtual escort. Virtual strip clubs, nude beaches and orgy rooms are popular destinations in Second Life.

Another popular activity in Second Life is "ageplay," where residents sculpt their avatars to resemble children, and engage in child-like activities: Playing on playgrounds, and so forth. Some of the ageplay community engages in simulated sex. The ratio of non-sexual to sexual ageplay is about 50/50, according to an interview with a leader in the Second Life ageplay community, published on the blog the Second Life Herald in January.

Linden Lab said late Friday it plans to institute age verification in Second Life., designed to keep children off the main area -- known in Second Life jargon as the "grid." Linden Lab runs two Second Life services: The main one, from which people under age 18 are supposed to be barred, and Teen Second Life, open only to 13-18-year-olds. There is no part of Second Life where teens and their parents can use the service together.

Age verification would not have stopped the incidents ARD describes, since there were no children alleged to have been active on Second Life while involved in those activities.

About the Author(s)

Mitch Wagner

California Bureau Chief, Light Reading

Mitch Wagner is California bureau chief for Light Reading.

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