Blind eyes are handy things to have to turn. Turn a blind eye to something you think might just be going on and you can legitimately later claim to have known nothing about it. Jimmy Savile? What a cheeky personality he is, they must have laughed, whilst making sure they never accidentally entered his dressing room and witnessed something that might compel them to act. Harvey Weinstein? Why he’s just the mischievous Santa Claus of movies. Kevin Spacey? Such an artist, man; such an artist. With any luck, there’ll be nothing whatsoever to any of these rumours and your blind eye turning will have been the right thing to do – and, in years to come, you’ll be able to tell those insolent youngsters that true wisdom is about knowing when to act but even more about knowing when not to. On the other hand, if an appalling truth should actually one day get out then with any luck everyone will turn a blind eye to your turning a blind eye.
I find I can’t turn a blind eye to the existence of a place in Second Life called ‘Grandpa’s Basement,’ much as a number of well-meaning friends have suggested I might be advised to. I learned about this place a few weeks ago when a friend told me about a friend who’d come to her for advice when her SL boyfriend had asked her to ‘young down’ her look so that he could take her there. “Wait,” I replied, “There’s a place in SL called ‘Grandpa’s Basement’? Are you kidding me?”
She wasn’t kidding me. I looked it up on search and there it was. Right next to the details was an image with the following:
What happens in the basement, stays in the basement … – Grandpa
It’s an adult hangout for older men and younger women. The description text identifies it as:
Older men seniors mature old men daddy old man geezer younger women teen eighteen plus teens grandpas young college school girl grandpa daddys babygirls dads babygirl senior older man dad adboards
Humans only. No chıldren.
It turns out that quite a few residents know about this place and it’s received no small amount of discussion on the website SLSecrets. It’s a heated, confusing and often unhelpful discussion, and my head was spinning after reading just a couple of pages there (see here and here if you really feel the need to sample this). The debate often focuses on whether or not child avatars appearing there are engaging in cybersex – from what I’ve read so far it would appear that no-one has presented any definitive proof that they are.
I’ve visited the venue twice now – each time for about five minutes (once when I first heard about it to see if I should file an abuse report (I did, for reasons I will go on to explain) and once again last night to see if it was still there and to inform this article). On both occasions it was very busy (30 or more avatars), with a roughly 50-50 split of male and female avatars. Only a few of the male avatars appeared to me to be obviously old. All of the female avatars appeared to be young, but only one of them (seen on my first visit) was so young that they could be considered a child (ie, if you saw most of the females anywhere else, ‘child avatar’ would not pop into your mind). There was no sexual activity going on on in either visit, with all avatars standing around doing pretty much nothing. There was virtually no chat. Most avatars were fully clothed, with a few in ‘reduced attire.’ The child avatar I saw was fully clothed. I’m giving this description in completely neutral language to avoid hyperbole and so that you can get an impression of what there actually was to see.
A silent room of statue avatars, then. Does child sexual role play go on there? I don’t know. You will note that the description above says “No children.” A message appears in chat when you arrive reminding you of this.
For the record, I have no problem per se with child avatars in Second Life. At its best, SL is an amazing place for people to explore new ways of expression denied to them in real life and role-playing as a child avatar is a legitimate way of doing this. I know a tremendously free spirited child avie who makes it his job to remind us all what it’s like to discover and explore the world through a child’s eyes (and reacquaint us with all those beautiful, prejudice-free aspects of childhood that we lost as we grew older). As young children, we were none of us remotely interested in the world of sex, so why should we expect a child avatar to show such interest?
So there’s a place in SL called ‘Grandpa’s Basement.’ There appears to be no proof that child sexual role play (which, in case it needs to be said, I do have a problem with) takes place there and its stated rules do not permit it (kind of; let’s be honest, they could be a bit more explicit). Is this something, then, that we should be concerned about?
I think it is. Whatever the venue’s rules might say, there is a clear communication in its name. ‘Grandpa’ is a term we associate with children. If an adult friend or colleague used that word to refer to their grandfather (as opposed to ‘grandfather’ or ‘grandad’) it would hardly be a spit-your-coffee-out moment, but it would be a little surprising. And then there’s that accompanying phrase: “What happens in the basement, stays in the basement.” It’s not actually saying, “Don’t tell mommy and daddy abut what we did down there” but it’s not stopping far short. This choice of words is a clear reference to child sexual abuse.
In using such vocabulary, ‘Grandpa’s Basement’ is effectively legitimising child sexual abuse.
Think about that carefully. We know that when a criminal activity is legitimised in some way then we sometimes see it increase. Here’s one example of this: following the UK’s decision to exit the European Union – a decision which could have been perceived by some as legitimising their racial prejudice (and – please note – I am NOT suggesting that everyone who voted for that decision are racist people; I don’t believe that at all) there was a recorded increase in hate crime of 29%, the largest increase since hate crime recording started in 2011/12 (source). I don’t imagine for one moment that the influence of Grandpa’s Basement matches that of a national referendum (although it does appear to be a very popular venue), but if even one potential child abuser found there affirmation in their beliefs and went on to abuse a child then that would be an unforgivable tragedy.
As a reminder, Linden Lab outlaws child sexual role play (which is illegal in some countries) in section 4.8 of their TOS:
you agree that you will not: (viii) Post, display or transmit any material, object or text that encourages, represents, or facilitates sexual “age play,” i.e., using child-like avatars in a sexualized manner. This activity is grounds for immediate termination. You may review our full Age Play Policy here. You understand and agree that we may report any and all such incidents — and any and all of your corresponding personal information — to any authorities we deem appropriate, whether or not it in and of itself violates the law of your (or any) jurisdiction
In their policy on Age Play, they further outline the following as a key aspect in breach of Community Standards:
Promoting or catering to such behavior or representations violates our Community Standards. For instance, the placement of avatars appearing to represent minors in proximity to “sex beds” or other sexualized graphics, objects, or scripts would violate our Community Standards, as would the placement of sexualized “pose balls” or other content in areas depicting playgrounds or children’s spaces.
My view is that this venue, in legitimising child sexual abuse, breaches this key aspect.
I will add that, after reading through the two pages of SLSecrets linked to above, I came close to abandoning this post. The debate was so messy, so incoherent and so vitriolic in places that it made me just want to walk away. One point made in a number of places (and in a number of ways) that particularly discouraged me was the accusation that anyone claiming to be offended by such places but taking the time to visit them perhaps actually belonged there – in other words, “you must be a pervert for discovering this place.” When you think about it, though, what this does is just encourage people to turn a blind eye.
All this talk about proof is missing the point. The message that ‘Grandpa’s Basement’ sends out – whether you step foot in there or not – is that child abuse is somehow an exciting and desirable thing. It’s a vile, reprehensible and dangerous message. It should be nowhere to be found in Second Life.