Can You Be Charged For Crimes in the Metaverse?

Metaverse goggles over police tape
Iryna Dincer/Shutterstock

(CW: sexual assault)

Whether you’re a VTuber with an animated avatar, or the mastermind sitting at the helm of a completely fictionalized virtual influencer, the idea of a fully immersive digital world, aka the “metaverse,” is largely uncharted (and potentially exciting) territory.

But what about when things turn sinister or criminal? It’s something we don’t like to think about, but a recent case of virtual sexual assault has forced us all to stand up and pay attention to how dangerous the metaverse can actually be.

Incidents of sexual harassment and assault in the metaverse have been reported for months now, with the Daily Mail noting how several occurred on Meta’s free VR game “Horizon Worlds.”

But last week, the U.K. police force started investigating a virtual assault by a group of men inflicted on a young girl aged under 16 in the metaverse. While the attack was virtual, a senior police officer told the Daily Mail that “this child experienced psychological trauma similar to that of someone who has been physically raped.”

This is the first criminal investigation of its kind, and while it might not be legally binding in the U.S., it sets the foundations for how virtual crime prosecution might be informed in the future.

As the metaverse becomes a larger part of our everyday lives, its eventual role in the creator economy feels inevitable. Similar to how creators hold events on Roblox and other online spaces, it’s very likely that we will be seeing more of an influencer/metaverse crossover in the future.

It’s also worth noting that influencer social media accounts are incredibly popular among young audiences and parents and that 15% of children aged 5-10 have already used virtual reality headsets. So, as creators prepare to jump into the next era of the internet, it’s vital that they know how to look out for their young fans, and to try and protect and prevent them from traumatizing incidents like this.

And hopefully, setting a legal precedent for attacks in the metaverse will be a good start.

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