Last month, two Belgian publications reported that the Brussels police have begun an investigation into a citizen’s allegations of rape — in Second Life.
Unfortunately, rape in virtual spaces is not unheard of. And I’m not talking about the “consensual” rape built into some games (although if you’re interested in that debate, GameGrene has a good conversation about it).
There is no question that forced online sexual activity — whether through text, animation, malicious scripts or other means — is real; and is a traumatic experience that can have a profound and unpleasant aftermath, shaking your faith in yourself, in the community, in the platform, even in sex itself.
Our laws say that an adult subjecting a teenager or child to sexual words, images or suggestions on the internet is preying on their mental and emotional state in a sexual way. Even if you never try to meet the minor in person, and even if you never touch them or expose your naked self to them, it is a crime to attempt to engage sexually with a minor.
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?
The author concludes that “virtual rape” is lousy but not a crime, as you can read here.
At Terra Nova, Dan Hunter posted very briefly about this, making the obligatory dismissive reference to Julian Dibbell’s essay “A Rape in Cyberspace.” The comments that followed are a mixed bag, and can be read here. Law profs like Larry Lessig (see also), Yochai Benkler and Jack Balkin have written about the intersection of law and on line games such as Second Life and touted their importance. I can tell you as both a player and observer that enormous portions of Second Life are dedicated to sex, gambling, and marketing real space consumer goods and services. I don’t know what the gender divide is like among Second Life participants but if women don’t feel safe there, they aren’t going to play. If Linden Labs worried about this they might address the issue, but I’m guessing they believe it is more profitable to accommodate the harassers. See also.