- British authorities are investigating allegations of a simulated gang rape against a teenager's VR avatar.
- The girl told police that she was using a headset to play a VR video game when a male player attacked her avatar.
- Officials say the girl faced trauma similar to a real-life assault, but some are not convinced that's the case.
A teenage girl's claim that her avatar was gang-raped within an immersive virtual reality game is being investigated by British authorities, raising new questions about whether such acts within the Metaverse will lead to criminal prosecution. is said to be under consideration.
The girl, identified as under 16, was wearing a VR headset to play online when several male players attacked and “gang-raped” her digital avatar. This was announced by a British police official. daily mail.
Although she was not physically injured, the newspaper reported that the girl was extremely distraught after the incident, and a senior police officer familiar with the incident told the Daily Mail that the girl had experienced trauma similar to the actual assault. .
Donna Jones, chair of the Police and Crime Commissioner, admitted: BBC The incident was first reported to authorities in 2023, and a police investigation began. Still, the BBC could not confirm which force had launched an investigation into the attack.
Regardless of how British police ultimately decide to handle the case, law enforcement and safety researchers are concerned about sexual harassment and violence in the metaverse as virtual reality and augmented reality technology becomes more persuasive. states that it is necessary to address this.
VR goggles cover the user's peripheral vision, creating an immersive experience. Depending on user settings, players may experience vibrations in their handheld controls when stimulated in-game.
Users who find themselves in precarious situations in-game where their character interacts with other player-controlled characters may not be under direct physical threat, but they may be exposed to the immersive nature of the VR experience. The researchers say that nature may increase emotional responses to the content presented through the goggles and to the sensations registered through the goggles. Haptic suit. These touch-sensitive full-body suits vibrate in response to virtual stimuli, for example when the user's character hits a wall or gets punched.
In-game actions with mental strain
“The promoters of this technology can't use it both ways,” Katherine Cross, who studies online harassment at the University of Washington, told Business Insider. “They can't tout the realism of these virtual worlds and deny or downplay the unfortunate downstream effects of real-life actions where the ugly events that occur there are marketable in their own way. If it's real enough, it's real enough there' the social impact and the psychological impact when something goes wrong. ”
Cross said the core of VR technology relies on tricking the user's brain at a fundamental level into thinking it's you. Physically experience things on screen by mimicking sensations experienced in the real world, such as walking or swimming through space. These brain tricks are why users can feel a little disoriented for a few seconds after taking off their headsets and finding themselves still standing in their living rooms or on the show floor at a convention. She says it's her fault.
“And what that means is that if something potentially traumatic happens in that space, you consciously immediately realize that it's just a game and it's not really happening. Or you might recognize almost immediately, that there's a moment where the lizard brain has to kind of catch up,” Cross said. “So it's not unreasonable to think that it could lead to trauma.”
Even as safety researchers and law enforcement agencies raise questions about the potential real-world impact of VR attacks and harassment, the debate rages on in online forums such as: reddit Regarding the impact of virtual sexual assault, some users have suggested that claiming to have been traumatized by a virtual sexual assault minimizes “real rape victims.”
upon Instagram, In response to a New York Post article about the incident, users joked that the perpetrator who harassed the girl online should be sent to a “virtual prison.” Some quipped that they were waiting for justice after a character from the first-person shooter game “Call of Duty” was killed.
“I know it's easy to dismiss this as not being real, but the important thing about these virtual environments is that they're incredibly immersive,” said British Home Secretary James.・Mr. Cleverley said. LBC About that incident. “And we're talking about a child here, and that child has experienced sexual trauma. That's going to have a very significant psychological impact, and ignoring this You have to be very careful.”
He added: “It's also worth recognizing that people who seek to inflict such trauma on children digitally may also be the same people who can go on to do terrible things in the physical realm. Yes,” he added.
Sexual harassment in 'Horizon Worlds'
Claims like the British girl's are not unheard of, and there have been multiple reports of virtual sexual harassment stemming from Meta's VR game “Horizon Worlds,” but it remains to be seen whether the incidents occurred within Meta's game or not. It remains unclear whether it took place in another VR world.
In 2022, Metaverse researchers studying user behavior in “Horizon Worlds” discovered that her avatar was I was raped about an hour after the first session..
“Part of my brain feels like something crazy is happening, another part feels like this isn't a real body, and another part says this is important research. I felt that,” the researcher says in her report She added that the users who attacked her avatar requested that her avatar be disabled. 4 foot safety bubble before starting the attack.
A few months ago, in 2021, another Metaverse researcher named Nina Jane Patel posted on Medium that three to four male-looking avatars gang-raped her avatar within 60 seconds of joining. Stated.horizon world'', calling the incident a surreal nightmare.
“The girl involved is very brave,” Patel told BI. “It couldn't have been easy to let the police know this. She's taking her next step with her own actions. I don't know where it will lead, but I hope she's on the right track.” It's a step towards.”
In the summer of 2022, following initial reports of sexual harassment and simulated assaults on the platform. The Verge Meta has expanded the types of content allowed in “Horizon Worlds,” including depictions of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use and “depictions of nearly naked people” for users 18 and older. It was reported that it contained “adult” content. An environment focused on suggestive or suggestive positions or overly suggestive activities. ”
However, Meta said that “content or worlds that include nudity, depictions of people in explicit positions, sexually suggestive or suggestive positions” are still prohibited in public spaces. policy Regarding adult content on the site. In-game avatars are drawn from the waist up, so there are no visible legs or genitals during play. However, users can simulate sex with provocative positions on their avatars.
A representative for Meta did not respond to a request for comment from Business Insider. A spokesperson for the tech giant said: metro: “Behavior like the one described will not be tolerated on our platform. That's why we have an automatic protection feature for all of our users called Personal Boundaries that keeps strangers a few feet away from you. ”
Defining a new frontier in cybercrime
This is not the first time sexual attacks in virtual reality have been reported, but it is believed to be the first time British authorities are investigating whether such attacks can be prosecuted as crimes.
Patel told BI that specific laws are needed to address the special nature of crimes in the metaverse, such as defining and criminalizing grooming, bullying and harassment in virtual environments. She will also create rigorous age verification systems, privacy controls, and parental monitoring tools tailored to the Metaverse's immersive experiences without stifling the innovation and freedom that makes alternate reality worlds so appealing. I am advocating.
“Protecting children in the metaverse requires a multifaceted approach: psychologically based safeguards to prevent trauma, a strong legal framework to define and prosecute crimes; international cooperation for effective enforcement,” Patel told BI. “This is a critical area that needs immediate attention to ensure the Metaverse remains a safe and positive space for young users.”
But Cross isn't sure that one-size-fits-all laws are the right answer, saying that laws criminalizing acts in the metaverse only treat the symptoms rather than the cause of the problem, and that government enforcement The official said, “That may not be the case.'' We can provide the relief that people want and deserve. ”
“Ultimately, I think it's the responsibility of platform holders to engage more openly with the public on these issues,” Cross told BI. “And to be able to provide users with not just personal moderation tools, but organizing tools that effectively police their own communities and work in tandem with expanded moderation and trust and safety.” “We need to establish a serious reform package that they can drive.” “
Mr. Cross further added that in the area of more effective law, large companies should have well-staffed trust and safety teams in place to deal with virtual harassment issues, and that online and virtual reality safety should be He added that the responsibility for ensuring gender equality would be placed on companies, not individuals. platform.
Current law prohibits cybercrimes such as fraud, harassment and the online distribution of child sexual abuse material, but investigators familiar with the UK case told the Daily Mail that the teenager had committed sexual abuse. He said it was unclear. Allegation They could be prosecuted under current law because “current law is not set up for this.”
“We are starting to think about what crime is in the Metaverse and how to police it,” said Graham Biggar, head of the UK's National Crime Agency. evening standard.
He added: “In the real world there's a lot of crime that we have to deal with, so it doesn't dominate our thinking, but if you're in the metaverse wearing a haptic suit, If you can feel what's going on, you're going to engage in sexual activity.” If I am assaulted, raped, or murdered, will I be okay even if I am not wearing a haptic suit? ”