Virtual Nightmare? Minor 'Assaulted' Virtually in Meta's Horizon Worlds – Online Safety Poses Next Challenge

The incident highlights the growing concern surrounding virtual crimes and their impact on victims.

In a disturbing case currently under investigation, British police are looking into an incident where a 16-year-old girl's virtual reality (VR) avatar was allegedly gang-raped within the immersive metaverse game, Horizon Worlds, produced by Meta (formerly Facebook). The incident highlights the growing concern surrounding virtual crimes and their impact on victims, even in the absence of physical harm.

Minor virtually gangraped

According to a report by the Daily Mail, the teenager was utilizing a VR headset during gameplay when avatars representing several men allegedly assaulted her virtual character. While the victim did not suffer physical injuries, the emotional and psychological toll is being taken seriously by law enforcement officials.

UK Home Secretary James Cleverly has expressed support for the investigation, emphasizing the profound psychological impact on the young girl. Speaking on LBC's "Nick Ferrari at Breakfast" program, Cleverly cautioned against underestimating the severity of such virtual acts, stating, "The whole point of these virtual environments is they are incredibly immersive. And we're talking about a child here, and a child who has gone through sexual trauma. It had a very significant psychological effect, and we should be very, very careful about being dismissive of this."

Ian Critchley from the National Police Chiefs' Council highlighted the metaverse as a potential breeding ground for predators and urged the development of policing strategies to combat online crimes. He also called upon tech companies, including Meta, to enhance safety measures for users.

The specific game in question, Horizon Worlds, has reportedly witnessed various instances of virtual sexual misconduct. Despite this, no legal actions have been taken in the UK to date. Meta's responsibility and the need for increased user protection measures are now under scrutiny.

This incident echoes a similar case in 2022, where a 43-year-old British woman alleged verbal and sexual harassment within Meta's metaverse, Horizon Venues. She claimed that within a minute of entering the virtual world, her avatar was "virtually gang-raped" by three or four male avatars who also took explicit photos.

As authorities delve into the investigation, concerns about the psychological consequences of virtual crimes continue to gain attention, prompting calls for a reevaluation of safety protocols in the rapidly evolving realm of online gaming and virtual reality.