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Sexual Violence and Harassment in the Metaverse

The metaverse is a space where emerging manifestation of sexual violence are occurring, with female-presenting avatars far more likely to experience multiple forms of abuse, from simulated groping and harassment to rape.

The report ‘Sexual Violence and Harassment in the Metaverse: A New Manifestation of Gender-Based Harms’  co-produced by the Alliance for Universal Digital RightsEquality Now, and Vulnera, explores the effects of this emerging manifestation of technology-facilitated abuse and the potential for applying and adapting existing criminal laws to metaverse scenarios.

This report reveals that, despite this focus and investment in the metaverse, there is a scourge of sexual violence present in this digital environment, which is leaving users at risk of real-world harms. 

The metaverse has been cited as a revolutionary technology, with the potential to reshape human interaction. While it has typically been experienced up until now via online games and virtual role-playing activities, dating apps are increasingly entering the virtual world and augmented realities, opening up different forms of digital interaction. 

It is also being explored as a future commercial and financial interest at the international level. Nations and economic hubs, including South Korea and Dubai, have already invested heavily in becoming leaders of this virtual realm and are establishing virtual infrastructure and processes to enable commercial entities to operate in digital space. 

States have an obligation to protect the rights of women and girls, including in the digital space. Government efforts should be supported by international collaboration and legal frameworks that compel technology companies to uphold human rights standards. This includes the enactment of laws and mechanisms at both national and international levels, aimed at ensuring women’s safety and dignity in digital platforms and across multiple jurisdictions. 

The aim is not just to combat gender-based violence but to preemptively design a metaverse that embeds women’s safety and rights at its core.