Chat Line Blamed for Rapes of Children

     MARIETTA, Ga. (CN) – A mother claims in court that her 15-year-old daughter was raped by a man she met on a Quest Personals adult chat line after the company refused her request to remove the girl from its list – and that her daughter is far from the only victim.
     A.C. claims her daughter is just one of many girls who were sexually assaulted by adults they met through Quest Personals, which has no effective age verification procedures.
     She claims at least 18 other underage girls who used Quest Personals in 11 states have been raped since 2006.
     A.C. and her daughter, also identified as A.C., sued First Media Group, its affiliates First Media Startup dba Quest Personals and First Media Holdings, and FMG managers Kenneth Hood and Grant Hood, in Cobb County State Court. They also sued A.C.’s assailant, Wayne McDonald.
     First Media Group, based in Toronto, is one of the largest North American providers of Internet and phone dating services. Quest Personals alone has more than 1 million active phone members in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, according to the complaint.
     “As with many mainstream personals markets, FMG’s market is geared toward making it easy for people to talk and meet for chat, romance and sex,” the complaint states. “Personals are expressly geared toward heterosexuals, bisexuals, lesbians and homosexuals. Parts of the Quest Personals web page steer married consumers to sites that cater to extramarital relationships. On information and belief, Quest does not charge female users of the system, so as to ensure a larger female to male consumer ratio.
     “FMG’s Quest telephone system launched sometime in 1988. It was intended to be a simple, yet effective way to bridge the gap between busy people looking for a new way to connect. It uses a technology known as ‘Interactive Voice Response’ or ‘IVR’. The IVR lets users record a custom ‘personal ad.’ It also allows them to respond to the custom ads of other users. It has a ‘chatline’ component to allow callers to talk on the telephone line simultaneously via voice messages or to talk one-on-one in a ‘secure, private connection.’
     “The Quest Personals voice chat telephone system contains a disclaimer that users are required to be eighteen years or older. The voice chat telephone system, however, is naively self-policing and contains no method or security process or device to verify or ensure that users are actually eighteen years old or older.
     “The FMG defendants, Grant Hood and Ken Hood, are aware of the dangers and hazards posed to underage minors who use the Quest Personals voice chat telephone system. The management of the FMG defendants, Grant Hood and Ken Hood, are, and have been aware, of reports of rapes and other sexual attacks and misconduct by sexual predators against children using the telephone and/or Internet personals markets.
     “The Quest Personals voice chat telephone system poses a danger and hazard to underage minors.
     “The Quest Personals voice chat telephone system allows sexual predators to gain the trust of underage users, who can then be persuaded or induced to meet older Quest Personals users. The Quest Personals voice chat telephone system, currently without adequate age verification procedures, allows sexual predators to prey upon underage minors.
     “The Quest Personals voice chat telephone system has thus facilitated and abetted the rape of underage minors by sexual predators using the Quest Personals system.”
     A.C. says her daughter began using the Quest chat line in 2004 or 2005, when she was 13 or 14, without her parents’ permission or knowledge.
     She says no one at Quest ever tried to verify her daughter’s age, even though ” the FMG defendants, Grant Hood and Ken Hood, had been put on notice of several other rapes of underage minors, for example:” the complaint then lists five girls, some of them by name, from Florida, Texas and Washington.
     “Although her telephonic profile said she was eighteen years old, A.C. freely told other Quest Personals voice chat users that she was actually only a 14- and later a 15-year old minor,” the complaint states. “Sadly, none of her Quest Personals chat buddies ever hung up after hearing her true age.
     “For the next couple of months, A.C. used the Quest Personals voice chat line to make acquaintances with a number of adult men. She spent hours on the phone, becoming essentially addicted to the chat, which was often of an intimate and personal nature. Men began calling her house often and at late and odd hours.”
     A.C.’s mother says she realized her daughter was using Quest’s chat line in 2005, after a 30-year old man called the house and asked to speak to her daughter.
     She says she asked Quest to remove her daughter from their chat system, but Quest refused, and allowed A.C. to keep her account.
     “One of Quest Personals users actually appeared outside A.C.’s bedroom window, even though she had told him she was a minor,” the complaint states. “Another Quest Personals user, who also knew that A.C. was a minor, threatened the life of A.C.’s father after he told the Quest user not to call his minor daughter again.
     “Although her parents attempted unsuccessfully to remove her from the Quest Personals system, and aggressively hid the family telephones from her, A.C. continued to use the Quest Personals voice chat line after her parents were asleep or working away from the home.
     “Some time after Quest refused to remove A.C. from the Quest Personals voice chat system, A.C. was contacted by defendant McDonald, a 58-year old man, through the Quest Personals system. He arranged to meet and transport A.C. and another 15-year old girl to his house.
     “He met them later that same night and took them into his car. At that time, A.C. told Mr. McDonald that she and the other girl were minors. Mr. McDonald nevertheless transported A.C. and the other 15-year old girl to his house in Cobb County, where he gave the girls enough alcohol to become intoxicated. Wayne McDonald then raped both girls.
     “A week later, McDonald met A.C. and the other minor girl a second time. He transported the two girls to his house again, along with two other adult men. McDonald again supplied the minor girls with alcohol. The other adult men raped both girls.
     “A week or so later, McDonald met A.C., the other 15-year old girl, and a third 14-year old girl. While he drove them to his house he supplied them vodka and other alcoholic beverages. Once they arrived at his house, he supplied them with more alcoholic beverages. All three girls became intoxicated. McDonald stripped the girls, posed them in a variety of sexual positions, and photographed them so that they appeared to be engaging in sexual acts. On information and belief, he took at least 48 explicit photographs.
     “One of the other minor girls subsequently told her mother that she had been raped and had engaged in other sexual activities with the older men, including McDonald. The police were involved. A.C. was able to lead police to McDonald’s house in Cobb County.”
     McDonald was arrested in May 2006 and pleaded guilty to aggravated child molestation, statutory rape, sexual exploitation of a minor and furnishing sexually explicit materials to a minor, according to the complaint. It says he is serving 20 years in prison in Wrightsville, Ga.
     A.C.’s mother says Quest finally removed her daughter’s name from its chat system after McDonald was arrested.
     She claims at least 18 other underage girls who used Quest Personals in 11 states were raped after 2006. Under the heading, “The Subsequent Rapes of Children Who Accessed Quest Personals,” the complaint lists the places and dates where the sexual assaults allegedly occurred.
     A.C. claims that FMG and Quest, who encourage young girls to joint their chat line and connect with complete strangers, leave minors vulnerable to sexual predators.
     “Despite the growing knowledge of the hazards and risks of its industry including the rape and sexual assaults of minors, as shown by its own experience and that of other successful but risky online social and chat services, the FMG defendants, Grant Hood and Ken Hood have implemented no meaningful protections or security measures to prevent underage users from opening an account, talking to complete strangers many times their own age, and from subsequently being enticed to meet by sexual predators, who then sexually assault them, exploit them for pornography, or rape them,” the complaint states.
     A.C. and her mother seek compensatory and punitive damages for negligence and sexual assault.
     They are represented by Lance Cooper.

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