4 Jan 2024

First Case of Virtual Rape Emerges in Britain's Metaverse: 16-Year-Old Victim Reports Online Avatar Exploitation

For the first time in Britain, authorities are investigating a disturbing case involving the virtual gang rape of a 16-year-old girl within a metaverse, a virtual world. The victim alleges that unidentified individuals assaulted her avatar in a virtual reality game, causing profound psychological distress, comparable to the impact on a physical assault victim.

Though physically unharmed, the victim, who was wearing a virtual reality headset during the incident, has suffered mental trauma. This unprecedented case is prompting a thorough investigation by British police.

Home Minister Cautions on Real-World Implications

Home Minister James Cleverly emphasized the significance of investigating the matter, noting that dismissing it as detached from reality is a mistake. He pointed out the extensive immersion of today's youth in virtual environments, highlighting the potential real-world dangers posed by individuals who commit such acts in virtual reality. Cleverly underscored the absence of laws regarding virtual rape in Britain, adding complexity to the ongoing investigation.

Meta Company's Response to Ensure User Safety

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, introduced Horizon Worlds, a virtual reality space, in 2021. Users create avatars to engage in games and social interactions. In response to the recent incident, a Meta spokesperson stated that such crimes have no place on their platform. To enhance user safety, Meta has implemented a personal boundary feature, ensuring that unknown individuals remain at a distance from a user's avatar.

History of Virtual Assaults in Metaverse

Instances of virtual assaults in metaverses have been documented in the past. In 1993, the first case of virtual rape emerged, and more recently, in 2022, a researcher reported being assaulted by another avatar within Facebook's metaverse. Even though these incidents occur in a virtual space, victims often describe a profound emotional impact.

The prevalence of such incidents is not limited to the recent case, as a 45-year-old British psychologist disclosed being gang-raped in the Facebook metaverse in February 2022. A 2017 report by The Extended Mind revealed that 49% of female users experienced virtual sexual harassment in the early days of Virtual Reality, shedding light on the need for a safer virtual environment, especially considering the higher representation of men in the development of these platforms.

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