You may have seen the report that Belgian police are investigating a possible virtual rape in Second Life.
I analyzed the legal status of virtual rape 5 years ago, using the then-infamous Lambda Moo virtual rape as the basis of my analysis. I pretty much stand by what I said on the subject then, so I’m not going to repeat myself here. If you want to read what I said, please read the original article: Susan Brenner, Can There Be Virtual Crimes?, 4 California Criminal Law Review 1 ¶¶ 100-127 (2001).
Basically, if we assume, as seems to be unclear, that virtual rape is possible in an online world like Second Life, the issue then becomes whether it inflicts a “harm” the criminal law should address. As I argue in my article, a real online virtual rape such as the one that happened in Lambda Moo (details in the article) does inflict “harm” on the victims, but it’s “merely” a psychic “harm.”
Criminal law has historically dealt only with real, physical “harm” to persons and property. It began addressing a kind of psychic “harm” a few years ago, with the rise of stalking laws. That trend has accelerated somewhat with the increased use of expanded harassment provisions to target those who use online communications to inflict “serious” or “substantial” emotional distress on another person. Virtual rape MIGHT be prosecutable under one of those statutes, though I think they generally tend to require that the distress be the result of a continuing course of conduct . . . of a repeated series of acts. That would be a problem if the virtual rape involved only one attack.
Do I think we should expand our rape laws to encompass psychic, virtual rape?
Read the article.