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02nd Feb 2022

Woman says she was ‘virtually gang-raped’ in Facebook’s Metaverse

Steve Hopkins

Nina Jane Patel was later told she ‘shouldn’t have chosen a female avatar’

A woman has detailed how she was “virtually gang-raped” in Facebook’s Metaverse in a “nightmare” incident , just seconds after entering the virtual world.

“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,” Nina Jane Patel wrote in a Medium post that was first published in December, but has since attracted a weath of attention.

The 43-year-old London-based mother added:  “As I tried to get away, they yelled, ‘Don’t pretend you didn’t love it’ and ‘Go rub yourself off to the photo.’”

“It was surreal,” Patel added of her experience on the platform that only went live a few weeks ago. “It was a nightmare.”

After Patel, a vice president of research for another metaverse company, shared her story she was met with little sympathy from some commenators. One told her, “Don’t choose a female avatar, it’s a simple fix” and dismissed her as making “a pathetic cry for attention.”

Patel’s story isn’t the first time safety concerns have been flagged with Verge reporting in early December that a beta tester had alleged that a stranger had groped her avatar.

“Sexual harassment is no joke on the regular internet, but being in VR adds another layer that makes the event more intense,” the tester wrote.

“Not only was I groped last night, but there were other people there who supported this behavior, which made me feel isolated in the Plaza.”

Vivek Sharma, Meta’s vice president of Horizon, told Verge that the incident was “absolutely unfortunate”, but added that the beta tester had not used a safety feature intended to block unwanted interacting.

Sharma’s response was dismissed as “a bit of casual victim blaming” by Guardian colunmist Arwa Mahdawi, who wrote: “It’s the digital equivalent of telling women that if they don’t want to get harassed while walking down the street, then they should just stay at home.

“It’s old-fashioned misogyny repackaged for the digital age.”

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Patel said in her Medium post that she didn’t use any safety features because the incident unfolded so quickly.

Joe Osborne, a Meta spokesperson, told VICE News the company was “sorry to hear” of Patel’s experience and added: “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’s statement to the publisher continued: “Horizon Venues is meant to be a space to host virtual events, such as concerts. “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.”

Facebook’s parent company was rebranded as ‘Meta’ last year, with Mark Zuckerberg announcing that the digital universe was the future and that within the Metaverse people’s avatars would supposedly be able to do everything they do in the real world.