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De-Incentivizing Virtual Rape

As reported by Wired’s Regina Lynn: Controversy is brewing in virtual reality world Second Life over the occurrence and potential illegality of online rape. The 3-D virtual world, built and owned by its more than 6 million users, currently allows members to engage in a wide range of sexual activities. You can buy S&M gear and solicit strippers, escorts, and prostitutes (all of whom are in fact other SL users). While individual avatars are supposedly prohibited from taking control of other avatars without permission, savvy users can still use scripts to force submission. As a result, Belgian police are now investigating an SL user’s allegations of a sexual assault that took place entirely online. Here’s what Lynn has to say on the matter:

If it is a criminal offense to sexually abuse a child on the internet, how can we say it is not possible to rape an adult online?

But I have a hard time calling it “rape,” or believing it’s a matter for the police. No matter how disturbed you are by a brutal sexual attack online, you cannot equate it to shivering in a hospital with an assailant’s sweat or other excretions still damp on your body.

Meanwhile, Salon‘s Broadsheet reports that SL rarely and barely punishes abusers, while noting that most U.S. states have enacted statutes calling for real-life punishment of extreme online harassement. Crime in Second Life isn’t a new phenomenon, and users have criticized SL’s slow response to complaints of “illegal” activity, while SL creator Philip Rosedale has reportedly been reluctant to start policing the virtual world. Still, when issues like sexual assault start sparking real-life police action, it sounds like a case for some necessary introduction of retribution to remove incentives if ever there was one.