Virtual Child Porn Riles Law Enforcement

"Second Life is a place where anyone can have just that," Michael Fitzgerald wrote in February on Inc.com, a Web site for entrepreneurs. "There are minutely detailed replicas of Rockefeller Center and human-size raccoons; sex and sadism and spiritual retreats; conference calls and a currency exchange. Almost all of it is created by the people who pay to dwell in it. Linden Lab, the San Francisco company that created and owns Second Life, acts as a sort of laissez-faire government. It makes money primarily by selling property, of which it can conjure an infinite amount."

An online user with the name Stephen Northport described the game as "tomorrow's playground."

But that utopian world has been invaded by pedophiles, German police told ABC News.

"A player came to us to report that he was invited to virtual child pornography meetings," said Peter Vogt, chief prosecutor from Germany's central office. "Child pornography is a punishable crime in Germany, however it is happening, and so is virtual child pornography, which is punishable by up to five years in prison."

Vogt, a widely recognized expert on child pornography investigations, said the game company, Linden Labs, had been cooperating with authorities. Linden Labs' legal counsel, Ginsu Yoon, confirmed this to ABC News.

Vogt's office was contacted by a German television station, whose reporter, a Second Life player, was invited to attend the virtual child porn meetings, and German authorities sprung into action. They believe the user is a German because he communicated in that language.

Lawrence Walters, a lawyer who advises online casinos and gaming companies, said that the big publishers of online games were "very hesitant to allow online users too much freedom because these issues come up. You have to expect just about anything in real life to occur on Second Life."

Brenda Brathwaite is a professor of game design at Savannah College of Art & Design. Her book "Sex in Video Games" was published in the fall.

"It's an anomaly," she told ABC News via e-mail. "I've come across very, very few examples of it. The few I have come across involve two consenting adults on an adults-only server engaged in role play [i.e. 'dress up like a schoolgirl']. The much greater threat … is virtual spaces where actual adults and children connect, like on IMs [instant messaging] or via numerous social networking sites."

Still, Walters acknowledges, the dawn of virtual child porn is upon us.

"The marketplace is clearly demanding more open-source interactive capability," he said. "Users are becoming more and more technically savvy. The new generation is demanding that they be able to program games as they desire. As they become older and begin being more of a buying power, they are going to demand more open sourcing. This is only going to become a bigger and bigger issue."

Longtime child abuse victim advocate Judy Cornett of Florida gets angry when she discusses the legality of virtual child porn.

"Do you mean to tell me that after Joe Blow watches child porn, whether it is virtual or otherwise, that he is not going to look at a real child with the same sick thoughts? What if he sees his niece within the next few minutes, or his daughter who is the same age? There is not a button to press to stop these feelings. Fantasy play has an enormous role in the development of compulsive rapists or child molesters. The Internet is a hunting ground for predators today," she said. "And virtual child porn just makes it a legal hunt."

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