Virtual Rape: Is it Possible? Should we Criminalise it?

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Virtual Rape: Is it Possible? Should we Criminalise it?

Post  Jin on Thu Apr 14, 2011 5:12 am

In the course of my research, some interesting things about virtual rape cropped up...

Just to lay the foundations, the virtual rape in this context refers to avatars in virtual worlds committing gestures that imply rape. Forgive the very bad definition; let's use some examples instead.

Examples
The archetypal 'virtual crime' is the LambdaMOO 'rape'. This is a text-based multi-user-dungeon - i.e. something like a chat room. A user named 'Mr. Bungle' uses some code/script technique to essentially spam the room with text of other users committing sexual acts upon themselves. I'm not entirely sure how this works - perhaps the more technologically inclined amongst this group can help!

In Second Life nowadays, where you are represented online by your avatar, virtual 'rape' can happen if someone uses a 'poseball' to make his character do sexually suggestive motions on yours. It's kind of sad, but examples are rife on youtube and google images in all their pixelated glory. May be NSFW - please exercise caution if you're searching for 'virtual rape' or 'second life rape' or smth...

The Question
Obviously, this is different from online sexual grooming, online cybersex etc. which are offences recognised by the law. This 'virtual rape' is not recognised by the law (duh) and has spawned quite a bit of comment.

Most of the articles I have come across are NOT in favour of criminalising virtual rape. They give a wide variety of reasons, ranging from virtual rape being no more than a 'story' of rape (because of the absence of any real-world effects), virtual rape being impossible by definition (because rape as a crime is defined by its physical effects) etc.

I tend to agree with them; until we're capable of transporting ourselves into the internet (a la Ghost in the Shell), virtual rape may be annoying, shocking, and abhorrent, but it should remain only a transgression of EULA/Terms of Service and not a crime.

For the sake of argument, as more and more children are using virtual worlds in today's society, are we potentially exposing the younger generation to something that might psychologically scar them? Novice users/unsuspecting users may experience some psychological harm, especially as graphics become more and more realistic/immersive, and the Australian Institute of Criminology seems to think this might be a cause for concern. Should the sanction against virtual rape be stronger to serve as deterrent and protection?

Articles if you're interested:
Brenner, S. (2008) Fantasy: The role of criminal law in virtual worlds. Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment and Technology Law. 11(1). Available at: http://works.bepress.com/susan_brenner/1/
Adrian, A. (2010) Beyond griefing: virtual crime. Computer Law and Security Review. 26(6), pp.640-648
Lastowka, F.G., Hunter, D. (2004) Virtual Crimes. New York Law School Law Review. 49, pp.293-316. Available at:
http://heinonline.org/HOL/Page?handle=hein.journals/nyls49&div=21&g_sent=1
(2010) Crime Risks of three-dimensional virtual environments. Australia, Australian Institute of Criminology. Available at:
http://www.aic.gov.au/en/publications/current%20series/tandi/381-400/tandi388/view%20paper.aspx

Jin

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