Jordan Belamire says she’s been sexually assaulted three times in her life — including one time in virtual reality.
Belamire and her husband were visiting her brother-in-law when she decided to try out his HTC Vive — a virtual reality system. At first, she wrote, she was “smitten” by the experience of shooting down undead warriors with an archer in a game called QuiVr. “I never wanted to leave this world,” Belamire said. But after starting her first multiplayer game, soon she couldn’t wait to escape.
Every player in the online mode of the game appears identical, but another real-time player named BigBro442 identified Belamire as female after hearing her voice in the group chat. In between battles, BigBro442 approached her character and began virtually rubbing her character’s chest. Belamire told him to stop, but her attempts to get away from him seemed only to embolden him. He followed her, “making grabbing and pinching motions near [her] chest.” At one point, “he even shoved his hand toward [her] virtual crotch and began rubbing.”
While the virtual harassment might not have been on par with the “shock and disgust” she felt after being groped “in a Starbucks in broad daylight,” said Belamire, the humiliation of the experience, which was witnessed by her brother-in-law and husband, felt shockingly real. After three minutes of multiplayer, Belamire was done with the game for good.
As VR progresses, Belamire says, it might become even harder to distinguish “what crosses the line from an annoyance to an actual assault.” If rules aren’t imposed, she notes, soon VR will become “yet another space that women do not venture into.”