I was ‘gang raped’ in the metaverse -the trauma was similar to a real-world assault


A woman has revealed she was ‘virtually gang raped’  by four male avatars in Meta‘s Horizon Worlds – and she said the trauma is similar to a real-world assault.

Speaking to DailyMail.com, psychotherapist and start-up co-founder Nina Patel said that her attackers may have felt ‘disinhibited’ due to being in a virtual world.

While she does not know the attacker’s true identities, all four had male voices – and one even said to her, ‘Don’t pretend you didn’t love it’ after the attack.

Patel told DailyMail.com that the ‘distressing experience’ happened just 60 seconds after joining the Meta-owned virtual world – a shared 3D space where avatars often meet random people.

Nina Patel, co-founder of Kabuni, told DailyMail.com about how she was 'virtually gang raped' by four male avatars in Meta's Horizon Worlds

Nina Patel, co-founder of Kabuni, told DailyMail.com about how she was ‘virtually gang raped’ by four male avatars in Meta’s Horizon Worlds

Patel was targeted simply for having a female avatar, an experience she described as ‘surreal’ and ‘horrible.’ 

‘They relentlessly harassed me and then proceeded to (what can only be described) as the sexual assault of my avatar,’ she explained.

‘Their behavior was offensive and disturbing.’

Horizon Worlds is a pioneering metaverse space owned by Mark Zuckerberg‘s Meta – a free 3D world where avatars can explore and talk to each other, accessible via Meta Quests headsets and other hardware.

But like many VR spaces, it’s not heavily policed, and sexism, homophobia and racism are rife, researchers have said.

‘The attack likely occurred in that instance because of the anonymity and perceived lack of consequences within the VR space,’ Patel said.

Patel is co-founder of Kabuni, and is an expert in metaverse and VR – hence she was one of the earlier users of Horizon Worlds. 

The attack saw the male avatars mobbing her character, yelling abuse at her and taking photos in-game – with one jeering attacker making a very crude suggestion over what she should do with the images. 

‘Some people may engage in such offensive behaviors in VR settings because they feel detached from their real-world identities and believe they can act without facing any repercussions.

‘Another issue potentially is that on some VR platforms, aggressive and violent behavior is encouraged and rewarded.’

She said that the feelings such attacks can evoke are very real.

Pointing to a recent case in Britain where a young girl was assaulted in VR and contacted the police, Patel said: ‘The emotional and psychological impact of VR can be very genuine and impactful.

Horizon Worlds is a pioneering metaverse space owned by Mark Zuckerberg's Meta - a free 3D world where avatars can explore and talk to each other, accessible via Meta Quests headsets and other hardware

Horizon Worlds is a pioneering metaverse space owned by Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta – a free 3D world where avatars can explore and talk to each other, accessible via Meta Quests headsets and other hardware

The girl under the age of 16 is said to have been left distraught after her avatar was gang raped by online strangers. 

Officers said she suffered the same psychological and emotional trauma as someone who has been raped in the real world as the ‘VR’ experience is designed to be completely immersive. 

‘The girl [who reported her attack to the police] is very brave, and she is on a new frontier,’ Patel said.

‘Bringing this to the attention of the police would have been no easy task, and she is breaking ground with her actions. While we don’t know where it will lead, it is a step in the right direction.’

‘These feelings and experiences are a testament to the power of VR technology in creating compelling and engaging simulations. 

The ‘metaverse’ refers to virtual spaces where you can game, work and communicate with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you. 

Horizon Worlds is a pioneering metaverse space owned by Mark Zuckerberg's (pictured) Meta

Horizon Worlds is a pioneering metaverse space owned by Mark Zuckerberg’s (pictured) Meta

‘For instance, an assault in the Metaverse, while occurring in a virtual setting, can have very real psychological consequences. 

‘The intensity of experiences in the Metaverse can mirror the emotions felt in the physical world due to the immersive nature of these environments.’

She said the metaverse brings together technologies such as virtual and augmented reality – and feels so real that it can have ‘profound emotional and psychological impacts.’

‘This can lead to real trauma and psychological distress akin to those experienced in physical assaults,’ Patel continued.

SumOfUs, a non-profit organization, produced a report on the problems of hate speech and sexual assault in Horizons in May 2022.

The organization’s 21-year-old researcher was attacked within an hour of using the platform.

The unnamed researcher said: ‘It happened so fast I kind of disassociated. One part of my brain was like wtf is happening, the other part was like this isn’t a real body, and another part was like, this is important research.’

A Meta spokesperson highlighted that the researcher did not have the Personal Boundary feature on – a safety tool that’s turned on by default and prevents non-friends from coming within four feet of your avatar.

But Patel said in the case of her attack, she simply ‘froze’ and couldn’t activate her ‘Personal Boundary’ in time.

The feature provides a digital boundary between avatars when turned on. 

SumOfUs’s research found virtual groping and gang rape on the platform, along with sexist, homophobic and racist comments.

The research found it was ‘easy’ for children to use the platform – and there was a failure to act against users who violated guidelines.

The virtual world was released by Meta in 2021, allowing users to gather with others, play games and build their own virtual worlds.  But like many VR spaces, it’s not heavily policed, and sexism, homophobia and racism are rife, researchers have said

The virtual world was released by Meta in 2021, allowing users to gather with others, play games and build their own virtual worlds.  But like many VR spaces, it’s not heavily policed, and sexism, homophobia and racism are rife, researchers have said

DailyMail.com tested Horizon Worlds using a Meta Quest headset and found that children were widely using the software.

The problem is not restricted to Meta’s metaverse platforms – one 14-year-old Roblox user told BBC Newsround: ‘I was playing Roblox, and I was on a game where you work at a pizza place, and two people were pressuring girls to do inappropriate stuff with them, and if they did, they would get extra money in the game.’

Patel described her experience as the ‘tip of the iceberg.’

What is the metaverse? 

The ‘metaverse’ is a set of virtual spaces where you can game, work and communicate with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you.

Facebook explained: ‘You’ll be able to hang out with friends, work, play, learn, shop, create and more.

‘It’s not necessarily about spending more time online — it’s about making the time you do spend online more meaningful.’

While Facebook is leading the charge with the metaverse, it explained that it isn’t a single product one company can build alone.

‘Just like the internet, the metaverse exists whether Facebook is there or not,’ it added.

‘And it won’t be built overnight. Many of these products will only be fully realized in the next 10-15 years.’

‘I am not the first, and the British girl who recently experienced it and brought it to the police will not be the last,’ she explained.

‘Most users of virtual reality have reported they had encountered racism, homophobia, and sexual harassment, either directed at them personally or at others.’

‘When someone is in a VR environment, their brain often perceives the experiences as genuine, and they may feel real emotions such as excitement, fear, joy, or even a sense of presence in the virtual world.’

Patel – co-founder of education start-up Kabuni, which uses VR as an educational tool, remains a passionate advocate for the technology.

‘I share my story and continue to advocate for a safer metaverse because raising awareness about the challenges and risks within virtual environments is crucial,’ she said.

‘By sharing my experiences, I hope to contribute to meaningful discussions and actions aimed at making these spaces more secure.

‘While negative incidents might deter some users, my advocacy emphasizes the importance of a balanced approach, recognizing both the potential benefits of the metaverse and the necessity for robust safety measures, especially for children and young people.

‘Speaking out allows me to promote responsible design, challenge stereotypes, and push for collective efforts from platform providers and users, all in pursuit of creating a safer and more enjoyable metaverse for all of us.’

Patel said it’s important not to underestimate the power of technology – but believes that it can be a force for good, fostering innovation, creativity and a sense of community.

‘Today, we find ourselves at a critical juncture where we have the opportunity to establish the foundation for a metaverse that brings more positive impact than harm,’ she explained.

‘By harnessing this potential responsibly, we can create virtual spaces that enhance human connection, promote learning, and provide safe and enjoyable user experiences.

How to keep children safe in the metaverse

Apps such as Roblox can also pose issues, users said

Apps such as Roblox can also pose issues, users said

Patel said that making metaverse spaces safe for children requires a concerted effort from regulators and metaverse platforms.

Patel said: ‘When considering the protection of children and young people in the Metaverse, there are specific emotional, psychological, and legal aspects that need to be addressed with utmost seriousness and precision.

‘Emotionally and psychologically, children and young people are in a critical stage of development, making them particularly vulnerable to the experiences they encounter in the Metaverse. 

‘The immersive nature of these virtual worlds can blur the lines between reality and virtual experiences for younger users. 

‘This makes experiences like harassment or grooming in the Metaverse not just virtual incidents but potentially traumatic experiences that can have long-lasting impacts on their mental health and development. 

‘The immersive and interactive nature of the Metaverse can intensify these experiences, potentially leading to anxiety, fear, and other psychological issues, just as real-world experiences do.’



Read More

Leave a comment

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More