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I became interested in avatar rape after I read an account in Gawker Media, titled “Second Life: Rape for Sale.” The post noted how users could indulge in rape fantasies (options: Rape victim, Get raped, or Hold victim) "for a trifling 220 Linden dollar things." Diana Allandale (not her real name) shared her experience with avatar rape in response to an online article, “How exactly does ‘virtual rape’ even occur in Second Life?” Her incident happened on a beach — a typical landscape as avatars interact with each other on "islands" — when another avatar invited her to go skinny-dipping.Then I witnessed an online sexual assault — and had a witness, too. Thankfully, he couldn’t read the chat in the text bar of my monitor.Tom Beell, a journalism professor at Iowa State, asked me about Second Life, knowing I had researched and written about it. In 30 years in academe, I have encountered homophobia in an inappropriate joke or offhand remark about lesbians, gays or transsexuals.In one section, Mac Kinnon introduces a feminist definition of rape that involves damage to the self that may be physical, emotional, psychological or material.
It is more than just physical because the victim or target continuously replays in the mind what has happened and, in a sense, experiences it over and over again." One of the best articles citing material affirming that view is “Virtual Rape,” published by Richard Mac Kinnon in the March 1997 issue of Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication.In researching the phenomenon, I sought viewpoints from directors of information technology and women’s studies at Big XII and other peer institutions.My research assistant Sam Berbano and I spent two months working with our Institutional Review Board, seeking approval to post our survey online."As the saying goes, the thought is written in water, and the deed is written in stone.
Events that take place in virtual worlds seem to lie somewhere in between, a kind of water with memory." He compares rape in a virtual realm to flashing in a real one.
Avatar harassment and sexual assault remain controversial issues because institutions hosting virtual worlds are not accustomed to dealing with — or even discussing — digital forms of these distressing behaviors.