The woman who reported being “groped” in virtual reality late last year has come forward to discuss her horrifying experience. “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,’” Nina Jane Patel, 43, recalled in a Medium post recounting the “nightmare” she experienced as a beta tester on the VR platform Horizon Worlds, created by Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook.
“A horrible experience that happened so fast and before I could even think about putting the safety barrier in place,” the London-based mother wrote, referring to Meta’s Safe Zone feature, which allows users to place a block on interaction with other users.
Meta revealed the incident on Dec. 1, saying it occurred on Nov. 26. The woman had reported the assault on the Horizon Worlds beta testing Facebook group. “Sexual harassment is no joke on the regular internet, but being in VR adds another layer that makes the event more intense,” she wrote, according to the Verge.
“Not only was I groped last night, but there were other people there who supported this behavior, which made me feel isolated in the Plaza,” the virtual environment’s central gathering space. “Severe” encounters of online harassment — including physical threats, stalking and “repeated” harassment —
are on the rise, according to a 2020 Pew Research poll, with the percentage of users reporting such incidents jumping from 15% in 2014 to 25% today. While much of it takes place on social media, VR is still nascent and already an apparent venue for harassment.
Patel claimed the avatars touched her avatar, which she said resembled her in real life, inappropriately while they took pictures and made crude comments. “It was surreal. It was a nightmare,” Patel wrote. Patel told Newsweek she tried to report and block the individuals responsible but everything happened so quickly she was unable to report it. “It was so unpleasant I just needed to exit in order to end it, as they were yelling such profanity at me,” she said.