Researcher’s Avatar “Virtually Raped” in Horizon Worlds
Avatar sexual abuse in the metaverse is once again on the front-page news. A few months ago, a woman reported being ‘groped’ while in the social VR environment Horizon Worlds by a gang of male avatars, an incident which prompted Meta to add additional protection tools in addition to its pre-existing reporting and blocking tools.
Now another woman, a researcher, is reporting being “virtually raped” in Horizon Worlds while undertaking research on users’ behavior in the social metaverse.
The researcher says the virtual rape on her avatar happened within an hour of wearing their headset and entering Horizon Worlds.
The researcher was reportedly invited to a private party by some Horizon Worlds users in early May 2022. The users in the room then asked her to disable a personal boundary feature introduced by Meta following the previous harassment incident that prevents other users from coming within four feet of her.
A nonprofit advocacy group called SumOfUs published a report of the incident accompanied by a video that shows what happened next to the researcher’s avatar from her perspective. The video shows a male avatar coming extremely close to the researcher and another male avatar standing very close by and watching. The two avatars then pass a bottle of alcohol between one another and the two male voices also make some lewd comments in the 28-second video.
The researcher did not share some parts of the video where she says that the two avatars led her to a private room to a party where a user raped her while continually telling her to turn around so he could “do it from behind”. There were users, other avatars, on the window watching this unfold and another user in the same virtual room watched the sexual harassment and “passed around a vodka bottle.”
The researcher says that even though this experience happened in virtual reality and to her avatar, the experience still left her “disoriented”.
In her report, the researcher describes her VR controller vibrating when the male avatars touched her thereby recreating a physical sensation of the assault that she experienced online.
SumOfUs says some of its metaverse researchers have also experienced other forms of abuse in Horizon Worlds including racial and homophobic slurs while some report experiencing gun violence on the platform.
Horizon Worlds was launched last December in U.S. and Canada for users aged 18 and above. The platform was estimated to have at least 300,000 users by February this year.
This is probably the second most publicized instance of sexual violence in the metaverse following an incident in November last year when a user reported being groped in Horizon World. That incident had prompted Meta to institute additional protection measures such as activating the four-foot personal boundary in Horizon Worlds and Horizon Venues, a feature that prevents other avatars from coming within four feet of you.