Law of the Game is typically about intellectual property and business law type matters, expanding at most into the civil arena. However, due to the incomprehensible number of news stories about Second Life rape, the blog will be taking a short detour into the world of quasi-criminal law.
The common denominator between these articles is their approach to the analysis of so-called “Virtual Rape.” (Although some draw lines between virtual sexual harassment, stalking, and rape through so-called “voodoo dolls,” all are dealing with the same over-arching concept.) I think many of them have missed the point. So, rather than start with what occurs in Second Life, let’s start with what occurs in First Life, i.e. the real world.
There are really two kinds of rape: Traditional forced intercourse and Statutory rape. Both could theoretically occur in a virtual world, so each should be looked at individually.
Statutory Rape is “a sexual act that is considered rape by the law regardless of whether it was coercive or consensual.” In most jurisdictions, this would be like a 30 year old having sex with a 13 year old. The law protects the child because consent is not necessarily valid and because there is a moral stance against the action.
Can this occur in Second Life? Well, it can. Teens are supposed to be segregated to the teen grid, but either an adult posing as a teen or vice versa could theoretically be on the wrong grid. If said impostor has cybersex with someone of a radically different age, it could in fact be statutory rape.
Or is it? No sex is actually occurring. While the pedophile in question may be slapped with all sorts of indecency charges, I have yet to see any prosecution in the US for statutory rape based entirely on cybersex, and if such a prosecution had occurred, I’m sure certain websites would have posted it by now.
Traditional Forced Intercourse
Traditional rape is generally defined as forced intercourse without consent. Under the voodoo doll scenario posted on Virtually Blind, a rape is possible, in that forced intercourse occurs. So, people in Second Life can get raped.
Or can they? Typically, a player has to install or activate some element of code to enable the rape. By this simple action, are they not consenting? And if they are volunteering, then the act is not rape. Even if the code is maliciously installed, like a virus, Second Life rape and real life rape have one major difference: In Second Life, you can always pull the plug. Turn off your computer. Disconnect from the server. Walk away from the monitor. There are many, many points of egress that a real rape victim is not afforded.
In short, Second Life rape isn’t really rape at all. It’s not a nice thing to do (assuming it’s the effect of a virus and not voluntary as opposed to people who buy into it), but it’s certainly not a crime. However, that is not to say that some real crimes may not come from stalking that originates in Second Life, or leaks of personal information, but until it crosses the boundary to have a real, tangible criminal effect in the real world, like stalking or identity theft or burglary, it’s not anything more than a pseudo-crime. As such, I would hope the police find something better to do than investigate rape in Second Life, such as investigate rapes and murders in real life.
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