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Woman says she was 'virtually gang raped' in Facebook's virtual reality Metaverse

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Photo Illustration by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

A woman says that she was "virtually gang raped" during a beta test on virtual reality platform Horizon Worlds, which was created by Meta — formerly known as Facebook.

What are the details?

In a lengthy Medium article, 43-year-old Nina Jane Patel said that she experienced a "nightmare" in the simulated 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 — 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 recalled.

Patel said that the incident took place so quickly that she wasn't even able to enable Meta's Safe Zone feature.

“A horrible experience that happened so fast and before I could even think about putting the safety barrier in place,” she explained.

“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 for a Tuesday report. “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).”

Patel added that virtual reality has become so pervasive in popular culture that it's become virtually impossible to differentiate between simulated life and real life.

“Virtual reality has essentially been designed so the mind and body can’t differentiate virtual/digital experiences from real,” she wrote on Medium. “In some capacity, my physiological and psychological response was as though it happened in reality.”

What else?

In December, Meta acknowledged Patel's claim and said that she'd been virtually "groped" on the platform.

A spokesperson for the company also told the Post that the company is set to make ongoing safety improvements.

“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 told the outlet. “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.”

Patel said that the experience helped her move on to creating Kabuni — which the Post refers to as an "educational metaverse equipped with parental controls."

“The more damaging lens of course will be on our children who will start to use the Metaverse(s) more and more over the coming years,” she said. “The inevitable move into the Metaverse now causes further concerns if not properly regulated and controlled for this impressionable age group on the back of solid research, science, data and evidence-based methodologies,” Patel added. “This is the foundation upon which Kabuni has been established and is currently working with educators around the world to shape a safer Metaverse for children aged 8-16.”

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