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The metaverse is developing at speed. Often referred to as the ‘embodied internet’, it is a 3D immersive, virtual world, currently accessed through headsets. Social media and IT companies are spending hundreds of billions developing this technology. It will transform our lives; we will be experiencing work, education, entertainment, shopping, banking and socialising in the metaverse. It will be as integral to our lives as the internet and smartphones are now. 


While this brave, new immersive world offers many positive opportunities, it is already clear that it will amplify both the worst and best in human behaviour and endeavour. Reports of harassment and abuse are increasing, often being met with disbelief, and the trivialisation of the harms and ramifications of such behaviours. 


My research develops the new concept of meta-rape, to replace virtual rape, to better describe the nature and harms of sexual violence and abuse in the metaverse. I call for greater recognition of the harms of meta-rape, as well as legal and policy reforms to try to reduce and prevent sexual violence and harassment. Time is of the essence: we can act now to design the metaverse to reduce and prevent abuse and prepare effective responses to the inevitable growth in harassment and abuse in the metaverse.

VR Headset

The metaverse is the next version of the internet; a 3D immersive experience accessed through virtual reality headsets for socialising and working .

News & Articles

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Virtual rape in the metaverse 


Reports of harassment and abuse in the metaverse are increasing, with the UK media reporting in January 2024 the ‘first’ report to the police of ‘virtual rape’. This sparked a furious public debate, and in several radio interviews, I challenged the description of this abuse as ‘imaginary’ and rejected the victim-blaming narrative that we just have to remove our headsets, to remove the threat and effects of abuse. You can read more of my comments on this case in my LinkedIn post.


I also contributed to Al Jazeera’s report as part of its Digital Dilemma’s series on the threats of emerging metaverse technology and deepfakes, explaining the nature and harms of abuse in the metaverse and how technology platforms need to be taking greater action. 


New concept of meta-rape


My research is developing the concept meta-rape to replace terms such as virtual rape. With Carlotta Rigotti, we suggest that this term better describes the nature and harms of sexual violence and harassment in the metaverse. It is an umbrella term to describe sexual harassment taking place now in the metaverse, similar to the way we use the term ‘rape culture’ as an over-arching term. We have produced a new research briefing on this topic which outlines the nature of meta-rape, the harms of sexual violence and harassment in the metaverse, what current criminal laws apply to this form of abuse and what law reforms are now needed. A summary is below and the full briefing is available here. Our academic article on this subject will be published later in the year. 


Meta-Rape and the Criminal Law


We suggest in our briefing that current criminal laws could be applied to meta-rape, to some forms of sexual violence and harassment in the metaverse. We also suggest ways in which to future-proof the law.

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Meta-Rape and Criminal Law


New terminology of meta-rape

The term meta-rape should be used to better explain the nature and harms of sexual violence and abuse in the metaverse, replacing terms such as ‘virtual rape’. 



An umbrella term and concept defined as experiences of sexual violence and harassment taking place in the metaverse.


Meta-rape experiences

There are three broad types of meta-rape experiences: (a) existing forms of sexual violence and harassment that are also being perpetrated in the metaverse such as sexual assault; (b) forms of abuse which are metaverse-specific such as ‘shadow presence’ and ‘passing through’; and (c) yet to be imagined forms of abuse as technology develops. 


Understanding the nature of meta-harms

Due to its immersive and synchronous nature, meta-rape and other forms of abuse, may be experienced as especially intense and invasive. Such abuse is also likely to lead to potentially devastating and life-shattering experiences, as well as having a silencing effect on women, girls and other marginalised communities. 


Current criminal law on sexual assault could be applied to meta-rape

As some forms of meta-rape involve physical sensations, due to haptic technologies, it would be possible to interpret current sexual assault laws to cover these instances of abuse.


Current criminal laws on harassment could be applied to metaverse behaviours

Just as harassment online falls within existing criminal offences, so should harassment in the metaverse which constitutes a ‘course of conduct amounting to harassment’. The offence requires that the defendant knew, or ought to know, that the actions constituted harassment which may not be easily satisfied due to societal minimisation and lack of understanding of the nature of harms in the metaverse. 


Current laws on image-based sexual abuse would not apply to the metaverse

These laws require imagery of real people in intimate situations. 


Future-proofing criminal law via offence of ‘intimate intrusions’

It would be possible to introduce a criminal offence which covers current behaviours of physical and online intrusions that would also cover some forms of meta-rape now and into the future.


Need to swiftly respond to developing technology with meta-rape specific offences

It is likely that specific offences will be required to respond to meta-rape. To learn the lessons of the slow pace of change in relation to online abuse, it will be necessary to act swiftly as metaverse technology develops and forms of abuse increase in prevalence. 

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