A researcher was forced to protect a seven-year-old girl from a gang of men making jokes about raping her in a controversial Metaverse app.
VRChat, which lets people meet up in a virtual VR world as 3D avatars, has been criticised for a lack of stricter age controls after this and similar incidents in which young children are being exposed to adult content, sexual material, and even grooming.
Metaverse researcher Catherine Allen said she encountered a seven-year-old girl in a chatroom. The two of them were surrounded by a group of men in VR who joked about raping them both, and Ms Allen said she had to step between the gang and the girl to protect her.
Although many VRChat 'rooms' are innocent spaces where people meet up and talk, there is a dark side to to the game which includes virtual strip clubs and other adult spaces that are easy for children to access.
BBC researcher Jess Sherwood said she witnessed people simulating group sex publicly, others making rape threats, and even one user "shoving a beer bottle up all the female characters".
She said: "VRChat definitely felt more like an adult's playground than a child's.
"A lot of the rooms were overtly sexualised in pink neon, similar to what you might see in the red light district in Amsterdam or in the more seedy parts of London's Soho at night. Inside, sex toys were on display."
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A spokesperson for the NSPCC said it is "dangerous by design".
"It's children being exposed to entirely inappropriate, really incredibly harmful experiences," he said.
"This is a product that is dangerous by design, because of oversight and neglect. We are seeing products rolled out without any suggestion that safety has been considered."
The problem isn't limited to VRChat, but also the Meta (formerly Facebook) VR platforms. Nina Jane Patel, the vice president of research for a rival metaverse company, claims she was 'verbally and sexually harassed' and even 'virtually gang raped' by a group of men within 60 seconds of logging into 'Horizon Venues', a VR world owned by Meta (formerly Facebook)
Patel said: "3-4 male avatars, with male voices, essentially, but virtually gang raped my avatar and took photos—as I tried to get away they yelled—'don't pretend you didn't love it' and 'go rub yourself off to the photo'."
VRChat said in a statement that it was "working hard to make itself a safe and welcoming place for everyone" and that "predatory and toxic behaviour has no place on the platform".
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