British police launch first investigation into virtual rape in metaverse

27

Euronews. The girl, allegedly under the age of 16, is said to have been left traumatised after her avatar – her personalised digital character – was “sexually attacked” by a group of online strangers.

UK police are investigating a landmark case of an alleged rape in a virtual reality game after a teenage girl was “sexually attacked” by a group of strangers in the online “metaverse”.

The victim, wearing a headset, remained unharmed as there was no physical assault.

Further detail about the case has been kept confidential to safeguard the child due to concerns that pursuing legal action for the online assault may not be feasible.

While the accuser did not experience any physical injuries, police sources say she might have endured trauma comparable to that of a real-life rape victim.

“There is an emotional and psychological impact on the victim that is longer-term than any physical injuries,” a senior officer told the Daily Mail.

However, British authorities fear that prosecuting the case under existing laws, which define sexual assault as non-consensual “physical touching” in a sexual manner, might prove impossible.

Should police be investigating metaverse crimes?

Photo shows avatars in an open virtual metaverse world
Photo shows avatars in an open virtual metaverse worldCredit: Decentraland

The investigation has received criticism from those who question whether the police should allocate their limited time and resources to investigate metaverse crimes while in-person rape cases continue to rise.

According to Rape Crisis England & Wales, between July 2022 and June 2023, 68,109 rapes were recorded by police and by the end of that 12-month period, charges had been brought in just 2.2% (1,498) of cases.

However, UK Home Secretary James Cleverly sided with the ongoing investigation.

Somebody who is willing to put a child through trauma like that digitally may well be someone that could go on to do terrible things in the physical realm

 James Cleverly
UK Home Secretary

“I know it is easy to dismiss this as being not real, but the whole point of these virtual environments is they are incredibly immersive,” Cleverly told LBC.

Highlighting that the victim affected is a minor who has experienced sexual trauma, the senior politician expressed, “It will have had a very significant psychological effect and we should be very, very careful about being dismissive of this.”

Cleverly also added that: “It’s worth realising that somebody who is willing to put a child through trauma like that digitally may well be someone that could go on to do terrible things in the physical realm.”