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COVID-19: Pandemic giving predators more time to target children while gaming, says mother of murdered boy

A mother whose son was murdered after being groomed while gaming says the coronavirus pandemic has given online predators more time to target children.

Lorin LaFave set up the Breck Foundation after her son Breck Bednar, 14, was murdered by 18-year-old Lewis Daynes in Essex seven years ago.

Mrs LaFave said her charity has received a record number of calls from worried parents and the pandemic has only made children more vulnerable.

She told Sky News: “They’re online even more than before and so too are predatory people. It’s the perfect storm.

“To keep our children safe online – whether gaming or socialising on social media – it’s about working together.

“There’s not one piece of this puzzle that will keep children safe.

“Teachers, parents, police, policymakers and the gaming industry all need to come together or there will be cracks and predators will slip through.”

According to research by Mobily eSports, 70% of parents in the UK want the gaming industry to do more to protect children online, with a third of parents unaware of who their child plays video games with.

Since lockdown, nine-year-old Isaac has doubled the amount of time he spends gaming to four hours per day.

His mother Jenny Ingram is juggling home schooling her son, his six-year-old sister, and working from home herself.

Isaac usually plays games online with school friends – it is the only social interaction he gets with them.

But despite keeping a close eye on him, Mrs Ingram, from Worcester, recently heard him speaking to a stranger while gaming.

She said: “At the moment he’s in a very small online group that he talks to, so the fact that somebody that he’s never met or interacted with before has been able to access that little group, it is concerning because then you worry who else can get access.”

Isaac said he usually chatted with school friends while playing online but added: “All of them live in England, I know their names, their age, that’s about it.”

Industry body the Association for UK Interactive Entertainment (UKIE), said: “Games companies have a sophisticated range of tools, features and state of the art moderation to help protect players. These tools help manage or restrict chat, as well as making it easy to report problems, and have been developed over years in close conversation with government, law enforcement and external agencies to ensure their effectiveness.”

Video game journalist Andy Robertson, author of online safety book Taming Gaming, told Sky News: “The settings on the console, it’s not all or nothing so you get a choice, you can play with anybody and older children and teenagers may want to do that.

“But you can also say you can only play with people online that you’ve exchanged a friend code with so you have to actually know them in the real world to do that.

“Or you can say this particular user, if they’re very young, they’re going to play offline unless they put a password in.”

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