Metaverse, an online world
UK police are investigating the world's first digital rape case in the metaverse world where a UK teenager's digital avatar has been under sexual attack by a group of men. Yuichi YAMAZAKI/AFP

Digital crime, especially sexual crimes like rape has entered a new arena, as the UK police are dealing with the first child rape case in the Metaverse.

A teenager in the UK has been sexually attacked by a group of men in a video game. The UK teenager has reportedly suffered emotional and psychological trauma similar to that being physically raped when the men allegedly sexually attacked her digital persona.

This comes at a time when the UK government passed the UK Online Safety Law to protect children and others from online fraud including violent content and fake profiles.

The 16-year-old UK teenager was in trauma after the gang men raped her digital avatar in the virtual reality video. Although the girl wasn't injured physically her trauma is similar to real-world rape, said the victim.

This is the first time the UK police are handling a sexual assault case in the Metaverse world. Most video games these days have an immersive virtual reality experience which blurs the difference between the real and virtual world once the users put on the headset.

According to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), 15 per cent of UK children between five to ten years of age have used such video games at least once in life and six per cent of them play one daily. This makes them vulnerable to sexual attacks and violence in the digital world.

Virtual reality headsets are a popular gift for children across the UK especially during festivals like Christmas or New Year. Often these VR headsets enhance the fantasy life of teenagers as the digitised world comes alive with it. In this case, the teenager was in an online room with many users who were playing the video game when the virtual sexual assault by several men happened. Her attackers have been identified as adult men.

In the wake of such gruesome sexual offences in the virtual world, the UK Police has called for legislation to tackle digital crimes. According to the police, officers have to evolve their tactics to stop perverts from exploiting children with the help of new technology.

Meanwhile, experts are asking whether police should be handling virtual offences like digital rapes.

Amidst the uncertainty, UK Home Secretary James Cleverly expressed his support to the UK police, stressing the necessity of the investigation as it affects the victim adversely.

"I know it is easy to dismiss this as being not real, but the whole point of these virtual environments is they are incredibly immersive," said UK Home Secretary James Cleverly.

Cleverly further underlined how such offenders won't be deterred from doing such heinous crimes in the real world and are a threat to people.

So far, it isn't clear what type of video game the UK teenager was playing in the online chatroom when the group of men attacked her digital avatar. Similar reports have emerged where girls have attacked in the Horizon Worlds video game offered by Meta online.

Speaking about the landmark case, psychotherapist Nina Jane Patel who researches Metaverse crimes said the Horizon World case was a "surreal nightmare" as it happened over multiple virtual reality venues.

The National Police Chiefs' Council's Child Protection and Abuse Investigation Lead, Ian Critchley spoke of the danger of the Metaverse world, terming it "a gateway for predators to commit horrific crimes against children" which have "lifelong impacts both emotionally and mentally".

"We know offenders' tactics to groom and commit offences are constantly evolving. This is why our collective fight against predators like in this case, is essential to ensuring young people are protected online and can use technology safely without threat or fear," said Critchley.

"As such, our policing approach must continually evolve to enable us to relentlessly pursue predators and safeguard victims across all online spaces," Critchley added.

Meanwhile, Meta had said at the time that such behaviour has no place on their platform.

"The kind of behaviour 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," said a Meta spokesperson.