A mum claims that she was sexually assaulted by three different men within 60 seconds of entering Facebook’s online world ‘Metaverse’.
Nina Jane Patel created an avatar that she felt accurately represented her, a middle-aged woman, blonde and dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved top.
But 60 seconds after entering the lobby the 43-year-old watched and listened in horror through her virtual reality headset as her character was ‘groped aggressively’.
Nina says the gang of three male characters pursued her, groped her, subjected her to a stream of sexual innuendo and took screenshots of the attack which lasted several minutes
She says this happened in full view of others logged into the online world where avatars meet and interact and explore a fast-growing network of virtual locations such as cities, country scenes or cafes, as reported by the Daily Mail.
The mum-of-four from South London had been excited to experience the animated world but while she could not actually feel the avatars’ hands, Nina says she has suffered from anxiety since the attack – and now fears her teens and other women's safety.
She said: “I entered the Horizon Venues metaverse […] within 60 seconds, three male avatars – who all had male voices – came towards me and touched me inappropriately.
“Before I knew what was happening, they were taking screenshots of them touching my avatar, both my upper and lower body. While doing that, they said things like, ‘Don’t pretend you don’t love it.’
“I tried to move away but they followed me. I didn’t know who these people were or have the time to stay and investigate.”
The experience has raised concern that the platform could become a tool used by sex attackers and paedophiles.
A senior lawyer said the attack was not an offence, but suggested Ministers may have to consider how to protect those entering the Metaverse.
Nick Brett, of London law firm Brett Wilson, said: “Where a woman has been sexually assaulted virtually, that itself possibly ought to be illegal but isn’t at present.”
He said the Sexual Offences Act 2003 may need to be amended to prosecute people who hide behind avatars, adding: “There have previously been amendments – most recently on up-skirting – so there is no reason why it couldn’t be.”
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Venues, which is available to those 18 and over, has introduced a ‘safe zone’ – a bubble that avatars enter to avoid interaction with others – but Nina says the website’s protection is still woefully inadequate.
She said: “Friends and colleagues have experienced racism, sexism and other forms of assault on the Metaverse I’ve heard many damaging experiences from women where their avatars have been sexually and verbally abused.”
Nina is now creating Kabuni, her own educational Metaverse for children aged eight to 16, with stricter parental controls.
A spokesman for Meta, Facebook’s parent company, said of Mrs Patel’s experience: “We’re sorry to hear this happened. Horizon Venues should be safe and we are committed to building it that way. We will continue to make improvements as we learn more about how people interact in these spaces, especially helping people report things easily and reliably.”
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