Sexual harassment is a big problem, not only in the real world. It happens in all sorts of places and is a punishable offense, obviously. However, criminals have found new ways to stick to their routine – they’re going into the virtual world.
At the end of last year, a group of men assaulted developer Nina Jane Patel by surrounding her, groping her, and touching her body. She repeatedly told them to stop, but to her dismay, it didn’t happen. The cases ended with no report to the police or any legal process. She knew who the assailants are, knew their faces, yet could do nothing about it, because it all happened in the Metaverse.
Patel is a researcher from the UK currently working on a doctorate that explores the physiological and mental impact of the Metaverse. She was logged in to the Horizon Venues VR video game for research when the assault happened. She made her avatar to look exactly like her. The game allows users to build and interact with different worlds.
While exploring the game, she was suddenly assaulted by a group of men. They had male voices and were linked to men in the real world. They started touching and groping her avatar while taking selfies and making inappropriate comments.
She immediately took her Oculus Quest VR device off her head, but she could still hear them saying things like “Don’t pretend you didn’t love it!”.
Even if it happened in the Metaverse, it was a shocking event for Patel. It took her several days to process it. At first, she tried to shrug it off as “weirdos” on the Internet. But deep down, she knew it was a deeper problem. It was more than an inappropriate comment such as “bitch” on the Internet. The men were in the same virtual room with her, and their presence made things worse.
After doing some research, Patel found out that this wasn’t the first time it happened. Online harassment has happened before. She found numerous reports on the web where people were verbally and physically assaulted in VR games. The incidents highlight the inability of current laws of monitoring and prosecuting such events. With the rapid growth of VR and the upcoming Metaverse, things are going to get worse.
It goes way back to 1994 and the first reported case of sexual harassment in a video game. A player under the name of Mr. Bungle used a subprogram that allowed them to describe sexual acts to other players in the game LambdaMOO. Physical treats and sexual harassment are more common than ever now with the growth of VR, and they will explode in the Metaverse unless action is taken quickly.
We live in an entirely new world and the law hasn’t caught up. Patel believes that government regulation needs to be happen or the assaults will continue, and they’ll definitely have a deep mental impact on the victims.