Refusing the Presumptive Inevitability of Rape (in virtual spaces and elsewhere)

To participate, therefore, in this disembodied enactment of life’s most body-centered activity is to risk the realization that when it comes to sex, perhaps the body in question is not the physical one at all, but its psychic double, the bodylike self-representation we carry around in our heads — and that whether we present that body to another as a meat puppet or a word puppet is not nearly as significant a distinction as one might have thought.  (Julien Dibbel, A Rape in Cyberspace, 1993)


My First Virtual Reality Groping.  23 years after Dibbel published A Rape in Cyberspace, this article was published this week.  In it, the author details her first experience with VR playing QuiVr.  After playing solo, she joined a multiplayer session.  While all the characters were physically similar, the players could hear each other speak and accordingly she could be identified as female via her voice.  Soon into the multiplayer session another player began to “virtually” assault her (character). 

The virtual groping feels just as real. Of course, you're not physically being touched, just like you're not actually one hundred feet off the ground, but it's still scary as hell she says. 

It’s hard to say what bothers me most about this article.

The title – the acceptance that this is only the first time, that on some level such assaults are inevitable, built into the fabric of VR, or perhaps of gaming?

The similarity to Dibbel’s report – the fact that 23 years later this is still happening, which suggests the inevitability hinted at in the title is not misplaced?

The call – not just for rules -- for standards to distinguish between annoyance and assault, again reinforcing the idea that this is inevitable, will always be inevitable?

The author writes that [n]ow that the shock has mostly worn off, I'm faced instead with the residual questions about the unbridled misogyny that spawns from gaming anonymity. It's easy to dismiss the most egregious offenses as the base actions of a few teenage boys, but I don't think it's as rare as a few bad apples. 

I have to agree.  I don’t think this is about a few bad apples.  I’m not sure it’s about apples at all.  I do think it’s about a culture of entitlement – to the space, to the tech, to the bodies within it and to the right to determine who “belongs”. 

The participants weren’t sure what should be done or how back in 1993, nor were the “wizards” who oversaw the space.  Regrettably, we still seem to be trapped in the same uncertainty.  Should “community standards” rule the day?  Should the standards of outside legal systems be applied?  How do we govern these spaces?  WHO governs these spaces?

I don’t have an answer. 

I do, however, have an innate certainty that the inevitability of these rapes must be addressed.