The ‘sexual attack’ of a young girl in a virtual reality video game has sparked what is believed to be the first investigation of its kind.
British Police are investigating the first case of rape in the metaverse after the digital persona of a girl under the age of 16 was ‘sexually attacked by gang of adult men in immersive video game’
The girl was said to have been left distraught after her avatar (digital character) was gang raped by the online strangers.
The Mail Online reports: The headset-wearing victim did not suffer any injuries as there was no physical attack.
But officers said she suffered the same psychological and emotional trauma as someone who has been raped in the real world as the ‘VR’ experience is designed to be completely immersive.
It is thought to be the first time in the UK that a virtual sexual offence has been investigated by police.
Virtual reality headsets were expected to be a popular gift this Christmas, with the NSPCC estimating that 15 per cent of children aged between five and ten have used one and 6 per cent use one daily.
Led by Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, tech giants have bet billions of pounds on drawing people – young and old – towards the virtual realm of the ‘metaverse’, selling the chance to live a digitised, fantasy life. The victim was in an online ‘room’ with a large number of fellow users when the virtual assault by several adult men took place.
Police leaders are now calling for legislation to tackle a wave of sexual offending in such a sphere, saying officers’ tactics must evolve to stop perverts using new technology to exploit children.
But the landmark case has prompted questions about whether police should be pursuing virtual offences – given police and prosecutors are currently struggling with an enormous backlog of actual rape cases – and if such an attack should be prosecuted under current laws.
Yesterday the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s Child Protection and Abuse Investigation Lead, Ian Critchley, warned ‘the metaverse creates a gateway for predators to commit horrific crimes against children’.
Details of the extraordinary virtual reality case have been kept secret to protect the child involved, amid fears that, for several reasons, a prosecution will not be possible.
But one senior officer familiar with the case said: ‘This child experienced psychological trauma similar to that of someone who has been physically raped. There is an emotional and psychological impact on the victim that is longer term than any physical injuries.
‘It poses a number of challenges for law enforcement given current legislation is not set up for this.’ There have been a number of reported sex attacks on Horizon Worlds, a free VR online game run by Facebook’s owner, Meta.
In Horizon Worlds users create their own avatars, an animated online representation of themselves that they can design and then control while wearing their virtual reality headset and associated equipment.
Nina Jane Patel, a psychotherapist who conducts research on the metaverse, has described a ‘surreal nightmare’ of being gang raped in Horizon Venues.
The chairman of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners Donna Jones told the Mail that women and children deserve greater protection: ‘We need to update our laws because they have not kept pace with the risks of harm that are developing from artificial intelligence and offending on platforms like the metaverse.