British authorities have reportedly launched their first investigation into an alleged “virtual rape”.
The incident is said to have occurred on an unnamed Metaverse platform, a type of communal virtual-reality experience arena.
According to officers speaking to the Daily Mail, it involved a girl under the age of 16 who is said to have been virtually “gang raped” by “adult men” in an online video game.
While police said that no real-life attack took place and that the girl was physically unharmed, the event had scarred her psychologically.
“This child experienced psychological trauma similar to that of someone who has been physically raped,” a senior officer told British media.
“There is an emotional and psychological impact on the victim that is longer-term than any physical injuries.”
Ian Critchley, speaking on behalf of the UK’s National Police Chiefs’ Council, described virtual worlds as having become a “gateway for predators to commit horrific crimes against children”.
He was unable to disclose which police force was investigating the online occurrence, with it also being unclear what crime is alleged to have taken place. The definition of rape in the UK requires there to have been physical contact between the perpetrator and victim.
Seemingly unhappy with just ruling Europe, MEPs have demanded that the European Union starts regulating “virtual worlds”, such as Facebook’s metaverse and Star Trek-style holodecks. https://t.co/QjNcOzKqnr
— Brussels Signal (@brusselssignal) November 28, 2023
Law enforcement agencies in the UK are now asking for more laws to be passed to enable them to prosecute so-called “virtual rapes”. Officers argue current legislation does not give them enough power to fight such predators.
Some have mocked the idea, suggesting the police should work harder at fighting crime in the real world rather than focusing on the likes of virtual rape and digital “hate speech”.
Others have argued that more needs to be done to protect children online, with Facebook and Instagram owner Meta coming under a barrage of criticism in the wake of the incident.
While it is unclear where the virtual rape in question took place, activists have alleged that Meta’s Horizon Worlds VR platform has been home to an increased amount of inappropriate sexual activity.
Researcher Nina Jane Patel had claimed in 2022 that she was “virtually groped” on a Meta-owned VR platform, although no charges appear to have been brought over the alleged incident.
Speaking to Brussels Signal, Meta insisted that sexually inappropriate behaviour had no place on any of its platforms and it has adequate safeguards in place to prevent children from being victimised while using its VR features.
“The kind of behaviour described has no place on our platform, which is why for all users we have an automatic protection called ‘personal boundary’, which keeps people you don’t know a few feet away from you,” a spokesman for the company said.
He also claimed the social media giant had not been given any information in advance regarding the alleged incident detailed by the Daily Mail.
“Although we weren’t given any details about what happened ahead of this story publishing, we will look into it as details become available to us,” the spokesman added.
— Brussels Signal (@brusselssignal) December 4, 2023