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British Police Launch World First Investigation Into Alleged Virtual Reality Attack

12/02/24, 12:00

The virtual world has taken a dark turn as UK police investigate the first alleged rape case within the metaverse.

A young girl under 16 reported being sexually assaulted by multiple avatars in a popular VR platform called "Horizon Worlds", leaving her understandably traumatized. The girl was reportedly wearing a virtual reality headset and playing an immersive game in the metaverse when her avatar was attacked by several others. This chilling event shines a spotlight on the uncharted waters of emerging online spaces and the crucial need to equip young people with current digital literacy skills to navigate the ever changing online world safely.

While the accuser did not experience any physical injuries, police sources say she might have endured trauma comparable to that of a real-life rape victim. "There is an emotional and psychological impact on the victim that is longer-term than any physical injuries," a senior officer told the Daily Mail.

This highlights the vital role of understanding online boundaries and recognizing harmful behavior regardless of its virtual nature. Whilst this incident may be a first (for now) we know the statistics reveal distrubing trends. According to the ONS "Around one in five children aged 10 to 15 years in England and Wales (19%) experienced at least one type of online bullying behaviour in the year ending March 2020, equivalent to 764,000 children."

Meta's "Horizon Worlds" has already faced criticism for inadequate safety measures "as some users reported being groped and sexually harassed. To address this, Meta later rolled out a 'personal boundary' feature" (TechCrunch, April 2023). As more children and adolescents venture into the metaverse, the risks escalate, making digital literacy education more critical than ever.

Read more about the story here.

So, how can we equip our next generation to navigate these new virtual landscapes safely?

1. Fostering Digital Citizenship: Schools need to prioritize PSHE (Personal, Social, Health and Economic) education, explicitly addressing online safety and responsible digital citizenship. This includes teaching students about:

  • Consent: The concept of consent applies even in virtual spaces, and young people need to understand and respect boundaries both online and offline.

  • Privacy and Security: Understanding data privacy, password protection, and safe online interactions is crucial to safeguard against exploitation.

  • Critical Thinking: Identifying misinformation, online grooming tactics, and harmful content empowers students to make informed choices online.

  • Reporting Mechanisms: Knowing how and where to report harmful behavior or abuse empowers students to seek help when needed.

2. Collaboration with Platforms: Tech companies must prioritize user safety and collaborate with educators to develop effective safety features and reporting mechanisms within their platforms.

3. Open Communication: Parents and guardians need to have open and honest conversations with their children about their online activities, monitoring their use without resorting to overly restrictive measures.

The metaverse holds immense potential, but its potential for a dark underbelly needs urgent attention. By equipping young people with digital literacy skills and fostering open communication, we can empower them to navigate these emerging worlds safely and responsibly. The UK police investigation serves as a stark reminder – the virtual world is real, and its impact on our lives, both physical and emotional, can be profound. Let's not wait for further incidents; let's equip our children with the tools they need to thrive, not just survive, in this new digital age.

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