Anyone who thinks that sexual assault in the Metaverse goes unpunished, please change your mind. Sexual offenses committed in this virtual space remain reprehensible. A proof of this is a South Korean convicted of this type of offense.
In South Korea, a man in his thirties was arrested, prosecuted and then sentenced to 4 years in prison for sexual abuse in the metaverse. This man produced and stored sexual content involving minors. Specifically, he came into contact with minors on a South Korean metaverse platform. As a gift, he encourages victims to send pornographic images and videos. The man thus built up his database between December 2021 and March 2022.
The identity of the sex offender was not revealed in the press. Nevertheless, the media provided some additional information about this case. In addition to the prison sentence, the court also imposed a therapeutic order. For this care measure, the convict must follow an 80-hour program specially designed for sex offenders. He is also prohibited from visiting institutions and other organizations involving minors when he is released from prison. And for seven years.
Legislation to protect users
As the evolution of the metaverse gallops along, minors are increasingly subjected to harassment and sexual assault. In recent months, experts have been more concerned about it. And yet the laws are not designed adequately to address abuse in virtual and digital spaces. Furthermore, jurisdictional issues on the nationless, borderless Internet also complicate law enforcement. On most metaverse platforms, the sanctions are limited to deleting the offending user’s account.
In South Korea, legislator Kang Sun-woo has formulated a bill. In particular, he proposed new amendments to an existing law on the protection of young people. This law aims to make operators of online platforms more accountable. For his part, South Korea’s science minister announces ethical principles for the metaverse.
Sexual assault, a growing scourge in the virtual space
The internet and digital spaces of all kinds have always been plagued by harassment and sexual assault. According to Iowa State University professor Michael Bugeja (he teaches ethics and media technology), the metaverse and virtual reality are breaking down the boundary between the virtual self and the real self. “It can make a digital life feel real with real emotions, which has exacerbated the impact of sexual misconduct in a metaverse,” he explains.
Sexual harassment in the metaverse is often glossed over or ignored. However, the psychological consequences are very real. British psychologist Heather Sequeira elaborates on this point: “The intention of virtual reality is to trick the human nervous system into experiencing perceptual and bodily responses in this different 3D space. Also, if the physical body remains intact in an attack, the emotional and psychological shock very real.
Harassment and sexual assault in the metaverse is on the rise. Experts lament the lack of proactivity by companies and platforms. The latter is content to act on a case-by-case basis. This is far from enough to stem this scourge in the making. Especially with haptic technology, which continues to evolve.
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