A 13-year-old girl has been found in Georgia after allegedly being kidnapped, held against her will and raped by an adult man she met on Roblox. Police arrested Howard Graham after discovering he had convinced the girl to leave her home in Kansas—after just two days of speaking on the app—telling her he would pick her up.
Captain John Ivey of the Clayton County Police Department told a press conference (per the Miami Herald) that Graham and the girl had met through Roblox on February 18. On February 20 she left her home in Topeka, Kansas, where Graham picked her up before driving her approximately 900 miles to his home in Clayton County, Georgia.
Police said they believed the young girl was subsequently sexually assaulted “many times.” As told by Captain Ivey, she sent a message to her mother through Roblox on February 24, sharing the address of a Dollar General store where she’d been taken.
Following investigations, the police arrested Graham at his job on March 1. The 33-year-old has been charged with sex trafficking, kidnapping, and rape.
“We’re truly lucky we found this young girl and she was alive,” said Captain Ivey. “I wish people would pay more attention to what their kids are doing. Predators will go on and prey on little kids.”
The scale of Roblox is hard to overstate: in a recent financial report, the company estimated its daily active users number an astonishing 54.7 million people. Yet it faces continued criticism over how it protects its overwhelmingly young audience. Various investigations have suggested the platform is an unsafe place for children before this point, and its young users can easily find sexually explicit content—though these investigations concern scams, content theft and inappropriate material. It would be unfair to conflate Roblox’s moderation and content issues with something as serious as alleged abduction and rape. That said: this is about as bad as it gets.
Child abduction is rare in the US: “fewer than 350 people under the age of 21 have been abducted by strangers in the United States per year since 2010.” That statistic is in context of a country of 329.5M people. This incident should not be downplayed but at the same time it has to be viewed as extraordinarily unusual: rather than as a sign there’s an under-reported pandemic of Roblox kidnappings.
In a statement provided to the BBC, Roblox Corporation spokesman James Kay said the company was “deeply saddened” by the case. “There is nothing more important to parents—including the many parents who work at Roblox—than ensuring that children are safe when they learn and play, online or off. We work tirelessly to prevent grooming on our platform. We have stringent safety systems and a team of thousands of moderators who enforce a strict set of community standards on Roblox, including zero tolerance for sexual content of any kind. While we have not been contacted by authorities about this case, we always cooperate with law enforcement requests and promptly report any suspect behavior to relevant organizations.”