The Legal Antidote To Virtual Sexual Assault
October 28, 2016 (Fault Lines) — “Groping,” defined loosely as “an act or instance of sexually fondling another person,” has the American public’s attention like never before thanks to off color remarks from a presidential candidate during an election season best described as a carnival sideshow. It is a form of sexual assault. Tennessee refers to it as “sexual battery” and New York calls it “forcible touching.” The problem with all these laws is they only address physical conduct in real life, and totally ignore virtual reality sexual assault (VRSA). Jordan Belamire, a recent VRSA survivor, is a case study in why these offenses must be criminalized immediately.
In case you might be triggered by a thorough discussion of the events Belamire endured, here’s a brief synopsis. Jordan and her husband went to visit a relative. During the visit, she had a chance to try out a game of “QuiVr” on her brother-in-law’s HTC Vive console. During a multiplayer game, someone with the handle “BigBro442” identified her as female due to her voice, and used a virtual hand to repeatedly touch Belamire’s virtual reality avatar without her consent. Despite this being a virtual world, and no actual physical contact occurred, Jordan “felt” violated by this video game’s “sexual assault.”
There I was, being virtually groped in a snowy fortress with my brother-in-law and husband watching….Of course, you’re not physically being touched…but it’s still scary as hell.
Put aside the fact that Jordan Belamire’s brother-in-law and husband should be in jail right now for idly standing by during her virtual sexual assault by a digital predator. This is outrageous conduct, right up there with real life rape. CNN Money, a credible bastion of legal information, is happy to explain why VRSA is a problem only the courts can solve.
No, sexual assault in the virtual world isn’t the same as in real life — but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an effect…”The men that make these games genuinely don’t seem to understand that it’s sexual assault,” game developer Brianna Wu told CNNMoney.
If it’s sexual assault, then there’s no need to design workarounds preventing players from a virtual groping. The necessary and ethical response is to design a virtual system of investigation, trial, and punishment of VRSA. Here is the proper, legal method of working through allegations of VRSA.
First, when a player allegedly experiences VRSA, he or she can make a hand gesture summoning a digital Catherine Lhamon. The player will then identify the alleged VRSA perpetrator, and describe the offense in enough detail to trigger an in-game Title IX investigation. If the game’s algorithm determines the accused to be a VRSA offender, he or she will be transported to a virtual courtroom, where they must defend themselves against the accusations by a preponderance of the evidence standard. An in-game conviction results in a real life felony on the player’s record, with mandatory registration on the VRSA sex offender registry.
The law is simply too slow to catch up with technology’s rapid development. While words mean things in a real life court of law, game developers like Briana Wu serve as a “voice of conscience” to those of us in the trenches. We can only defer to her judgment that such actions are deeply hurtful and require legal intervention, and respond accordingly with real world protocols for virtual infractions. It’s the only moral choice.