VR avatar’s sexual assault in Metaverse: What to blame now?

The virtual female avatar of a researcher working for Meta’s Horizon World claimed to be sexually assaulted. Photo: Collected

The incident of sexual assault on the virtual avatar of a female researcher for Meta’s Horizon World might be baffling to some, and difficult to grasp for others, but for many others, it is a simple demonstration of what social scientists and activists have been saying for years. Sexual assault is never a survivor’s fault, only the perpetrators.
Sexual assault is a complicated topic, and often sees people expressing extreme views in response, moral policing, vehement propagating of culture, religion, fashion etc, and of course, a whole lot of sweeping misogyny. On the other end of the spectrum lies vapid hatred for all men, even though criminal is a gender-neutral truth, and assaulters can be of any gender and sexual orientation.

One might wonder, “how can an avatar be assaulted”? The idea of creating one’s avatar is like using technology to traverse things and live somewhere with just the mind. Depending on an individual’s personality, an avatar can feel exactly like their own body in another reality, but reality it is, to that person’s mind. Thus, an assault on the avatar can truly feel like an assault on the self, and the psyche. On the other hand, the perpetrator as well has a similar connection to their avatar, and in this case, is deriving gratification from senses other than physical touch— their mind, their eyes, and imagination. 

Social scientists have long posited that sexual assault incidents are often rooted in not sexual gratification per se, rather the assurance of impunity, demonstration of power, and debasing the other person of their humanity. Basically, in layman terms, the assaulter takes more pleasure in the perverse mental gratification, and the physical is the conduit for it. The trauma of sexual assault is thus often similarly more rooted in the brain, and the emotions of the survivor, rather than just the body. The most important enabling factor of sexual assault thus appears to be the scope to get away with it. In this case, perhaps they thought, hey, she isn’t even real!

Solutions by the extreme right wing range from anything between limiting women’s education to job sector opportunities, or even further to convert women into glorified home décor by taking away their autonomy and agency as a human being and restricting them to the insides of a house. But perhaps it is time to see it for the spade it is— a crime of opportunity and impunity and not the survivor’s dress, activities, location, skin, gender, sexual orientation, or any other characteristic, at all.

There is no doubt that false accusations of sexual assault have and can still very completely ruin innocent people’s lives too. But to leverage the actions of a few false accusers to undermine the reality of scores of others, is a travesty of justice. By all means, there should be strict laws to protect against that. But the truth remains, there is a very real need for more open discourse of sexual assault, a whole lot of holistic education on sex in the young generation to route this problem at the base, and of course, normalising the social inclusion of a survivor for a more just society.