Rape and Second Life

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Here is an overview of the situation:

Last month, two Belgian publications reported that the Brussels police have begun an investigation into a citizen’s allegations of rape — in Second Life.

I am half convinced that the tantalizingly brief story, printed in De Morgen and Het Laatste Nieuws, is a hoax or an April Fool’s joke.

Yet it has prompted several threads of discussion, from a legal analysis to four pages of commentary at the Second Citizen forums.

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.
–Ann Bartow

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0 Responses to Rape and Second Life

  1. bob coley jr says:

    SL has taken the chat room mentality up a notch. But as for me- been there, done that! The use of an AVATAR may seem cool but it can also encourage abuse. Maybe Lindon Labs, if they wish to play God should be more like a benevolent one instead of one that is worried about the number of users it cn claim. I would hope any virtual world could be improved alot easier than the real one. And yes, I have an AVATAR AND an acount so I see what goes on!

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  3. yoz says:

    “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.”

    Instead of guessing, you could take the sixty seconds required to discover that Linden Lab operates a dedicated abuse-response team which deals with such accusations:

  4. Ann Bartow says:

    Actually I spent far more than sixty seconds communicating with SL participants who have had experiences with this “abuse-response” team, and their frustrations provide part of the basis for my guess that accommodating harassers is a conscious and affirmative part of the Linden Labs business model.