January 5th, 2006

Justice Files: Accused Molester Met Victim Thru Xbox Live

The Associated Press is reporting that police have arrested a 26-year-old California man on charges he molested a 14-year-old boy he met through Microsoft's popular Xbox Live service. Xbox Live is the exclusive host for online game play involving the Xbox and Xbox 360 systems.

Ronnie Brendan Watts of Placerville did not enter a plea during a Wednesday court appearance. He will appear before a Sonoma County judge on January 20th. Watts was arrested by the Santa Rosa P.D. last month after the teenage victim told his mother about the molestation. According to a press release on the police department's website, Watts is being charged with the following California statutes: Sending Harmful Matter to Seduce Minors; Lewd Act upon a Child; and Using Minor for Sex Acts.

Watts made contact with the boy on Xbox Live in October or November. Their contacts ultimately included e-mails and pornographic videos sent by Watts. The boy eventually gave the suspect his contact information, leading to a meeting in a Santa Rosa park where the alleged molestation took place.

After learning of the complaint, investigators searched Watts' home, seizing his Xbox and a laptop PC, along with a variety of cameras. Watts is currently free on bail.

GP: Keeping kids safe from online predators has been a major concern for parents and law enforcement officials for years. Now, as Internet connectivity rapidly progresses beyond the PC to game systems like the Xbox, PS2, PSP and Nintendo DS, it's more important than ever for parents to understand and discuss the dangers of the online world with their kids. A number of government-sponsored resources for keeping kids safe online are listed here.

"Mum's Army" Political Party Wants to Ban Violent Games in U.K.

A British women's magazine is organizing candidates to stand for election in the U.K. on a platform advocating the banning of gangsta rap, membership in street gangs, and, oh yes, violent video games.

According to a report in yesterday's Press Gazette, the popular women's tabloid Take a Break is behind the fledgling political movement, which has so far enlisted 54 potential candidates for local elections under the banner of "Mum's Army."

So is this just a gimmick to sell more magazines? Take a Break editor John Dale says no.

"For several years we've been reporting on how violent gangs and yobs have been destroying the lives of many thousands of our readers. People were desperate... nothing was being done - so we launched Mums' Army. We've had people write in and say they'd love to stand for elections, but they're too scared... That makes the women who are willing to put their heads above the parapet even braver... our readers love their magazine because it is fighting their corner when no-one else is, and this is not a publicity stunt, it is a serious campaign."

Despite editor Dale's protestations to the contrary, the Press-Gazette notes that Take a Break is in a circulation struggle with several competing magazines. Meanwhile Mum's Party candidates are popping up all over the U.K., including Luton, Southampton, Northampton, Cardiff, Hull, Preston and Glasgow. The Mum's Party section of Take a Break's website starts out with an opening paragraph which reads, in part:

"Are you on the verge of snapping over anti-social behaviour? Do you want to help Take a Break do something about it? Here's how...

GP: It will be interesting to see how this plays out in local U.K. elections in 2006. We'll go out on a limb right now and predict that Mum's Army will be among the harshest critics of Rockstar's upcoming Bully.

Utah Congressman Introducing Yet Another Federal Video Game Bill

Did you think a day might go by without news of another piece of video game legislation?

Not a chance.

The Deseret Morning News (Utah) reports that Representative Jim Matheson, a Democrat, plans to propose legislation in Congress which would make the sale of an M-rated or AO-rated to minors a federal offense. Matheson's bill, drafted but not yet submitted, is based on ESRB content ratings.

"The industry already has its own rating system. I'm just going to say you have to ID (the buyer) for any 'mature' or 'adult only' rated games."

The proposed legislation will also require that video games have the current rating prominently displayed on the box. (GP: isn't that the case already?)

In discussing the bill with the Morning News, Matheson expressed little confidence in the current retail system.

"You know darn well the 13-year-old is not being carded when he buys 'Grand Theft Auto 2.' You get points (in that game) for having sex with a prostitute; you get points for killing the prostitute." (GP: We're pretty sure he doesn't mean "GTA 2.")

How does Matheson plan to dodge the First Amendment bullet that has already doomed so many pieces of video game legislation?

"I stay away from that unconstitutional aspect." The Congressman told the paper that he believes basing the law on ESRB ratings avoids any government restriction of free speech.