It was only a matter of time until the first metaverse rape case was reported. Mark Zuckerberg’s brainchild was intended to be “an embodied internet” and “the future” of his company. But sadly, it has fallen into the same pit as the real world.
Several reports have highlighted violence, harassment, and assault cases in Meta Horizon World. The latest news revealed some disturbing details about the kind of activities users had been doing in the virtual playground. An NGO named SumOfUs reported a bizarre experience one of their researchers faced in the Metaverse.
Metaverse Rape within One Hour of Logging in
The goal of SumOfUs is to limit the power of corporations and stop them from “behaving irresponsibly”. For that purpose, a woman researcher entered the Metaverse to assess online behaviour on the platform. She reported that within 1 hour of her arrival, she was surrounded by male avatars, who made her remove safety settings so that they could enter her 4-feet “personal space bubble”. 2 of them led her to a private room, and one of them raped her while others watched and passed around a vodka bottle.
The researcher described the experience as “confusing” and “disorienting”. The rapist user kept pushing his avatar against the women’s avatar and even told her to turn around so he could “do it from behind”. When the media approached Meta for an answer, the company blamed the victim for disabling the security feature and making her avatar ripe for harassment by other users. SumOfUs also submitted the video evidence of what happened with the researcher.
Is it any Different than Sexual Assault in Real World?
Some debated if the actions shown in the video could be constituted as rape. The internet is a common space for abusive behaviour, but virtual social platforms are slightly different from regular websites. Here the user is immersed in the virtual world using a VR headset, controllers, and sounds. The handheld controls even have a function to simulate touch. They vibrate in physical response whenever an avatar touches another avatar. This multisensory experience provides a feeling of being there and cuts the separation between the user’s physical and virtual form. Thus, users feel as if the violence, harassment, and abuse on that platform are happening in real. This is why the victim of metaverse rape felt like being sexually assaulted. It means that getting raped physically or virtually is not that different because sexual consent is certainly violated in each case.
Metaverse is Not Safe for Women
It is not the first time a woman has been targeted on Metaverse. In April, a woman reporter descended into the virtual world to see if all the articles she read about the technology were accurate or not. She initially thought that all the reports criticizing Meta’s platform were pursuing negativity. However, within 10 minutes, she realized those articles were undermining the actual negativity on the platform. She was shocked to see underage kids performing oral sex, rampant sexual harassment, extreme racism, paedophilia, and rape jokes.
The reporter also revealed that she was using the profile of a 13-year-old but was able to access rooms that kids should not. She desperately tried to find some good stuff for her documentary but kept coming across filth. At one point, she was surrounded by 7 users who wanted to force her to remove her shield. She said she tried to run away, but they backed her up against the wall, groped her, and made sexual remarks. She described it as the “virtual equivalent of sexual assault”. Another case of Metaverse rape was reported last year in December. A psychotherapist researching Meta’s virtual platform complained that 3 to 4 male avatars gang-raped her and took photos.
At the end of the report, SumOfUs called for more oversight of Meta and its moderation process. It also requested to include a human rights assessment for Horizon Worlds, which Meta denied.