- Instances of sexual harassment in South Korea’s nascent metaverses are raising concerns.
- Additionally, authorities in the country are struggling to punish offenders in a space that is still largely unregulated.
Cases of Abuse
The concept of the metaverse is a popular premise that has gained impressive traction in South Korea. Young Koreans continue to embrace AR and VR-based games. This explains why metaverse worlds have likewise met huge adoption in the country.
While South Korea’s quick acceptance of the burgeoning metaverse industry is exciting, there are also concerns that it might be breeding a platform for sexual offenses. Perverse users are allegedly taking advantage of the realistic and sensory experience of the Metaverse to assault other users. This is easier to perpetrate because offenders can hide behind the anonymity of their avatars. Since offenses are not regulated enough to be prosecuted, cases like these become even more complicated.
Assaults in these metaverses are said to range from the act of avatar-groping to digital gang-rapes, and to sexually insulting comments. There have also been reports of racial abuse and a number of other indecent conduct. Furthermore, research suggests that most of these vices are often directed towards minors.
In one case, an adult allegedly induced a minor to send revealing photos in exchange for in-game items. In another metaverse, a teenage girl was coerced into taking off her avatar’s clothes before being instructed to have her avatar perform uncomfortable acts.
Inadequacies of Sexual Harassment Laws
In January, the Ministry of Science announced a five-year plan to develop the world’s fifth-largest metaverse industry by 2026. Despite the government’s ambitions, the metaverse is still a relatively nascent industry in the country, as well as globally. This means like most new sectors and industries, it has little to no legal structure. There have been questions about the security of users on the Metaverse and whether crimes committed on these platforms would have repercussions more severe than simply blocking offender accounts.
Legal experts have probed into the body of law against internet abuse and measured its efficacy on issues regarding the metaverse. Crimes committed in the metaverse are suggested to require a more hands-on approach, because of a metaverse’s all-immersive nature.
In an interview, an expert on gaming and interactive entertainment practices Tom Harding described the legal dilemma that the metaverse industry was.
To try and apply current laws to the metaverse context is going to be a significant challenge,” said Harding. “From a regulatory perspective, you’re never going to have a single metaverse law that tries to cover everything, in the same way, there is no one-stop single internet law.”
Moreover, South Korea’s law on internet assault is not explicit. A recent legal debate in the country argued that verbal sexual violence or abuse is considered criminal only when it takes place in a public space. Therefore sexual harassment on the metaverse, if argued properly, may just go unpunished.
For now, the onus of combating these issues is on the metaverse developers. Creators of virtual worlds are encouraged to make technological advancements that will prevent such indecent conduct from happening at all.
There have also been measures made by the South Korean government against the increasing cases of harassment. Last month, the Korean government established a 30-man council to “protect” the metaverse and also address cases of offenses towards minors.