A woman has spoken out about her “surreal nightmare” of being “gang raped” in virtual reality as she noted her response to the incident felt like it had happened in real life due to the technological advances of simulation.
Nina Jane Patel, a psychotherapist who conducts research on the metaverse, said she was left “shocked” after between three and four avatars attacked her in the metaverse.
The metaverse refers to 3D virtual reality which simulates real-life – containing holographic avatars and video. The term metaverse, which is now a buzzword, is widely believed to have first been used in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash where he imagined avatars assembled in virtual worlds.
While the metaverse is still in its early stages, Facebook has created a metaverse, with Mark Zuckerberg changing Facebook parent company’s name to Meta in a bid to hone his energies on constructing the metaverse.
“I recently shared my experience of sexual harassment in Facebook/Meta’s Venues,” Ms Jane Patel, who was in Facebook’s metaverse when the incident occurred, said in a medium post.
“Within 60 seconds of joining — I was verbally and sexually harassed — 3–4 male avatars, with male voices, essentially, but virtually gang-raped my avatar and took photos — as I tried to get away they yelled — ‘don’t pretend you didn’t love it’ and ‘go rub yourself off to the photo’.”
The 43-year-old mother said it was such a “horrible experience that happened so fast” before she even had a chance to think about using “the safety barrier” – adding that she “froze”.
Ms Jane Patel, who lives in London, noted both her “physiological and psychological” reaction was akin to it happening in real life.
“Virtual reality has essentially been designed so the mind and body can’t differentiate virtual/digital experiences from real,” Ms Jane Patel said.
But she explained she is a “determined woman” with a community around her – also saying she has no plans to be “deterred by three or four avatars” trying to “scare or intimidate” her.
She added: “My experience of sexual harassment was, to say the least, shocking. Shocking because I am not accustomed to be spoken to in such derogatory ways, maybe back in 1996, but certainly not in 2021.
“The comments on my post were a plethora of opinions from — ‘don’t choose a female avatar, it’s a simple fix.’, to ‘don’t be stupid, it wasn’t real’, ‘a pathetic cry for attention’, ‘avatars don’t have lower bodies to assault’,’ you’ve obviously never played Fortnite, ‘I’m truly sorry you had to experience this’ and ‘this must stop’.”
A spokesperson for Meta said they were sorry to hear of what happened – adding that they would like everybody in Horizon Venues to have a “positive experience”.
The representative added: “And easily find the safety tools that can help in a situation like this – and help us investigate and take action.
“Horizon Venues should be safe, and we are committed to building it that way. We will continue to make improvements as we learn more about how people interact in these spaces, especially when it comes to helping people report things easily and reliably.”