Virtual Abuse: UK Police Probe Sexual Assault of Child Avatar in Metaverse

Written by Jeppe W

Jan.03 - 2024 10:21 AM CET

Photo: Shutterstock.com
Photo: Shutterstock.com

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The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) has issued a stark warning following a report that British police are investigating a case of sexual abuse involving a child's avatar in the metaverse.

This case, reportedly the first of its kind in the UK, involved a young girl under the age of 16 whose digital persona was sexually assaulted by a group of adult men while she was using a virtual reality headset, according to Sky.

The incident highlights the growing concerns about the safety of children in virtual reality spaces. According to the NSPCC, around 21% of children aged 5-10 owned a virtual reality headset in 2022, with 6% regularly engaging in virtual reality environments.

The case under investigation illustrates the potential risks and traumatic impacts such virtual experiences can have on young users.

Richard Collard, the NSPCC’s Associate Head of Child Safety Online Policy, emphasized the urgent need for tech companies to prioritize child safety in their platforms. He pointed out that the immersive nature of these environments can intensify the harm experienced by children, paralleling the effects of 'real-world' abuse.

The NSPCC has called for the government to provide guidance and funding for law enforcement dealing with offences in virtual reality and for the Online Safety Act to be regularly reviewed to ensure emerging harms are covered under the law. The charity has also urged tech firms to enhance their efforts to protect children from abuse in virtual spaces.

Ian Critchley from the National Police Chiefs' Council highlighted the constantly evolving tactics used by online predators. He stressed the importance of the Online Safety Act in mandating tech companies to create safer platforms.

A Meta spokesperson, responding to the incident, stated that such behavior is unacceptable on their platforms and that automatic protection measures like 'personal boundary' are in place to prevent such incidents. However, details about the specific case were not provided to Meta before the story was published.

The investigation into this case in the metaverse signifies a new frontier in child protection and online safety, calling for more proactive measures from technology companies and law enforcement agencies.

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