British Police Investigating Virtual Sexual Assault on Young Girl's Metaverse Avatar

The girl was reportedly under 16 years old.

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British police are investigating an alleged metaverse sexual assault against a young girl's avatar in a virtual reality video game.

As reported by the BBC via the British tabloid The Daily Mail, a girl under the age of 16 has alleged that she was sexually assaulted by multiple online strangers while playing a social VR game. The unnamed young girl said she has suffered "psychological trauma" due to the incident. National Police Chiefs' Council's Ian Critchley wrote that virtual 3D spaces, or metaverse experiences, have opened a "gateway for predators to commit horrific crimes against children, crimes we know have lifelong impacts both emotionally and mentally." He added that tech companies must take action to "make their platforms safe places."

Critchley added that online sexual offenders have been "constantly evolving" their tactics, and as such there should be a new approach to policing continually updating online spaces.

While it's unclear which police department in the U.K. is handling the investigation, it marks the first major instance of an investigation into a sexual assault in a virtual reality metaverse experience. There was no physical contact in the assault since it was online through the use of people using VR headsets, but a senior officer said the victim suffered trauma "similar to that of someone who had been physically raped."

The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners' Donna Jones said laws will have to be updated to reflect such cases. "We need to update our laws because they have not kept pace with the risks of harm that are developing from artificial intelligence and offending on platforms like the metaverse," she told Daily Mail. "'The government needs to look at changing the law to protect women and children from harm in these virtual environments."

In a statement, Facebook's parent company Meta denounced the assault but did not confirm or deny whether it took place on its metaverse platform through the use of its proprietary Meta Quest headsets. "The kind of behavior described has no place on our platform, which is why for all users we have an automatic protection called personal boundary, which keeps people you don't know a few feet away from you," a spokesperson wrote. "Though we weren't given any details about what happened ahead of this story publishing, we will look into it as details become available to us."

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