Raped in the virtual world: Is the metaverse too big to police?

UK police is investigating an alleged rape of a 16 years old girl whose avatar got attacked by a group of men in the metaverse. Is crime in the virtual world a bottomless barrel?

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A child wearing a virtual reality headset.

Marking the first virtual sexual offense under police investigation, the increasing frequency of such crimes in the metaverse is a growing concern. Victims experience psychological trauma similar to real-life attacks while using a VR headset in a virtual room.

The Argument

Ian Critchley, who heads child protection at the National Police Chiefs’ Council, warns that the metaverse serves as a gateway for predators. He emphasizes the challenges police face in enforcing the law due to inadequate legislation.

The case raises questions about the feasibility of prosecuting virtual offenses and whether law enforcement should prioritize them amid a backlog of physical rape cases. This incident highlights the need to update laws to address emerging risks from artificial intelligence in platforms like the metaverse.

The Facts

The case involves an alleged rape in the metaverse, drawing attention to the psychological impact on the victim, which is similar to physical assault.

On Horizon Worlds, a virtual reality game by Meta, several alleged sexual assaults have been reported.

Children’s charity NSPCC estimates that 15% of children aged 5-10 have used a VR headset, and 6% use one daily.

The case raises concerns about law enforcement’s ability to prosecute virtual offenses and the necessity of updating laws for the safety of virtual environments.

Meta emphasizes its platform’s safety measures, including personal boundaries, while acknowledging the need for collective action to combat evolving criminal behavior.

The threat to children in virtual worlds intersects with the increasing use of artificial intelligence to generate and manipulate child abuse images online.

The debate on whether virtual rape qualifies as ‘real rape’ draws parallels with past discussions, highlighting the emotional impact on victims in virtual communities.

According to some reactions shared on Metro’s site, people have different ideas about the virtual attack case. While some believe the police should get involved because it might cause harm in real life, others don’t think it’s a problem at all. For instance, one player inquired about a fake murder in a game, saying, ‘I was playing Call Of Duty the other day when another player killed me. Can the police investigate my murder, please?’

In another comment, someone else mentioned that virtual rape doesn’t involve physical touch. Additionally, it has been opined that the police are investigating the crime because they do not have better crimes to pursue.

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