A disturbing report has come out of Florida this week. A man from Tallahassee, FL was charged with allegedly using Fortnite to recruit a teenager for sex and pornography. The 41-year-old, Anthony Gene Thomas of Broward County, was arrested late this week according to the Attorney General’s Office. According to investigators, Thomas had a co-conspirator who was the one who first initiated the contact in Fortnite with the 17-year-old victim.
He lured in his victim with gifts
Thomas gained the teen’s trust who was venting to him about his personal problems through Fortnite. Gifts such as credit cards and a phone were also given to the teen. Back in August, Thomas and his co-conspirator took the teen to his home in Broward County for sex. The teenager’s parents became worried about their child’s whereabouts and called the police. The police were then able to find out where the teen was and took them back home. Then, in August, a search was conducted of Thomas’s home where pornographic images and video of the teen were seized.
The scary thing is, there may be as many as 20 other victims. He faces charges of soliciting a child for unlawful sexual conduct using computers, traveling to meet a minor for unlawful sexual activity, possession with the intention to promote the sexual performance of a child, and 22 counts of child pornography and unlawful sexual activity with a minor.
Police say it’s important to talk to your kids about safety online
So what can parents do to protect their children from talking to strangers in popular games like Fortnite? Police say monitor their behavior, and know who they are talking to. Talk to them. Parents need to chat with the kids about safety online. When you have a game that has 200 million registered players and 78 million players a month, it’s bound to attract bad people. Attorney General Ashley Moody made the following statement to WSBT 22:
This case is disturbing not only because it involves child pornography, but also because a popular online game was used to communicate with the victim.We have reason to believe there could be additional victims, and I am asking anyone with information about the recruiting of minors for child pornography, or any other type of sexual exploitation, to call law enforcement immediately. Additionally, parents need to know that predators will use any means possible to target and exploit a child. I am asking parents and guardians to please make sure you know who your children meet online, and talk to them about sexual predators.
There are many great online resources parents can utilize when navigating what can be the unfamiliar world of online video games like Fortnite. Handy tips have been shared by experts and you can also head to Facebook for support groups. A great one known as Fortnite-iParent 101; Parenting Tips & Support is a group I find very helpful. It’s a scary world online but it’s comforting to know that parents can be on top of these things with the right tools.