• The London-based beta-tester's avatar was sexually assaulted by 3-4 male avatars
  • Proteus effect is when digital avatar or online persona affects the individual's behavior
  • Patel highlighted the seriousness of virtual crimes and the need for better regulation

A woman said she was “virtually gang raped” within a minute of stepping into the virtual game of Horizon Worlds developed by Meta, formerly known as Facebook.

Nina Jane Patel, 43, recounted the horror she faced as a beta tester on the VR platform in a Medium post in December. The London-based mother, who is the co-founder and VP of Metaverse Research at Kabuni, said she helplessly watched her avatar be sexually assaulted by a group of male avatars, according to USA TODAY.

“Within 60 seconds of joining — I was verbally and sexually harassed — 3–4 male avatars, with male voices, essentially, but virtually gang-raped my avatar and took photos — as I tried to get away they yelled — ‘don’t pretend you didn’t love it’ and ‘go rub yourself off to the photo,’” Patel wrote in her blog.

“A horrible experience that happened so fast and before I could even think about putting the safety barrier in place. I froze,” the mother added. “It was surreal. It was a nightmare.”

With Metaverse slated to be the next big thing, Patel hopes that sexual harassment in these virtual worlds will be addressed. Users entering a metaverse can experience locations without actually being there and feel like they are having face-to-face interactions with people, who might be miles away. While the gaming and entertainment industries have endless opportunities, other industries are also trying to jump on the virtual bandwagon of metaverses. This could change the way we shop and even buy real estate; it might even be our photo-realistic avatar that shows up to work for us someday in the future.

Virtual reality is being designed "so the mind and body can’t differentiate virtual/digital experiences from real," Patel explained in her post. This made her physiological and pyshoclogial response to virtually being assaulted "as though it happened in reality."

Patel also explained the Proteus effect, where a person's digital avatar or online persona influences their behavior. "The Proteus effect is the tendency for people to be affected by their digital representations, such as avatars, dating site profiles and social networking personas," Patel wrote.

A person's behavior can shift according to their digital representatives. Hence, this could also give way to people "living out the Darth Vader of their personalities" in a virtual world, Patel said.

Patel’s blog about the harrowing experience reportedly did not receive enough attention when it was first posted on Medium; nevertheless, she still continues to discuss concerns about the virtual platform.

The company also said in December that a woman had been virtually “groped” on the platform.

“Harassment in the metaverses is a serious issue that the industry needs to come together on to put in place the correct security controls and safety measures,” Patel told the New York Post. “This is/will continue to be problematic for both men and women (adults) as our world fast moves from the 2D internet as we know it — into the 3D internet space (The Metaverse).”

Joe Osborne, a Meta spokesperson, spoke to the New York Post and said “improvements” are being made.

“We’re sorry to hear this happened. We want everyone in Horizon Venues to have a positive experience, easily find the safety tools that can help in a situation like this — and help us investigate and take action,” Osborne said. “Horizon Venues should be safe, and we are committed to building it that way. We will continue to make improvements as we learn more about how people interact in these spaces, especially when it comes to helping people report things easily and reliably.”

Representative image Credit: Pixabay