Police investigate 'rape' in metaverse after group of men attack girl in virtual reality room

2 January 2024, 08:31

A girl has been attacked in the metaverse
A girl has been attacked in the metaverse. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Police are investigating an alleged rape in a virtual reality game after a child was attacked in the online "metaverse" - in what is thought to be the first time such a probe has been launched.

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The girl, who is aged under 16, was using a headset to access a VR room when adult men attacked her avatar.

She was not injured given the assault happened within an immersive reality game, but she is said to be psychologically and emotionally traumatised.

Details about the case have reportedly been kept under wraps to protect the child amid concern a prosecution for the online assault is not viable.

It has led to questions over whether police time is being wasted investigating such problems when it has a backlog of real rape cases to deal with.

But home secretary James Cleverly told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast: "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.

Watch Again: Nick Ferrari is joined by Home Secretary James Cleverly | 02/01/24

"And we're talking about a child here, and a child has gone through sexual trauma.

"It will have had a very significant psychological effect and we should be very, very careful about being dismissive of this.

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

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"I do think it's right we look seriously at this. We've got to understand that in the world of immersive digital media, I think we have a duty to take issues like this seriously. It might seem strange to some, but I do think this is something well worth looking into."

A senior officer who is 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 [that] current legislation is not set up for this."

Ian Critchley, the lead for child protection and abuse investigation at the National Police Chiefs' Council, warned: "The metaverse creates a gateway for predators to commit horrific crimes against children."

The NSPCC estimates that 15% of children aged five to ten have used a VR headset - devices which were expected to be popular over Christmas.

A number of sex attacks have been reported in Horizon Worlds, the free VR game released by Facebook owner Meta.

Mark Zuckerberg has staked a significant amount of finance on such concept taking off.

Users create an online avatar and don a headset to explore the artificial world.

One senior police officer told the Mail that sexual offending in the metaverse is now "rife", while Donna Jones, the chairman of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners called for updated laws to protect people online.

A spokesperson for Meta said: "The kind of behaviour described has no place on our platform, which is why for all users we have an automatic protection called personal boundary, which keeps people you don't know a few feet away from you."

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