Let’s Talk Tech: “Touch” Technology and Cyber Assault

Warning: the following post contains graphic discussion of virtual sexual assault and rape as well as mentions of pedophilia and suicide. Reader discretion is advised.

What is haptic technology and why should we be concerned about its rapidly evolving progress into the modern world? Simple: haptic technology is the simulation of physical touch by mildly stimulating the body though electric current. It seems innocent enough, and it was created as a way to keep couples in long distance relationships – pardon the pun – in touch. However, like most innocent technology, the dark side of haptic tech is quickly becoming a real problem, and we don’t have any way to stop it.

Let’s start with an example. A young woman is wearing a virtual reality headset and a haptic suit to full immerse herself in the virtual world she’s chosen to enjoy today. It’s a multi-user platform where anybody can log in and run their character around an imaginary world, which has been created by an anonymous host. Then, the host managing the website decides to have some fun with the people using his site. He posts a new objective to the game: players get bonus points if they can force another player to have sex with them.

Seem a little far-fetched? Don’t be so sure. In GTA 5, which sold over one million copies the first twenty-four hours it was released, the player can solicit and have sex with virtual prostitutes, and we’re completely fine with that.

Back to the example. Another player in the virtual world makes his character come up to our young woman and proceeds to force his character to make her character engage in non-consensual sexual intercourse. The VR headset and haptic suit transmit not only the horrifying visual images of her character’s abuse, but she feels everything happening to her character as her character is raped.

Now the big questions: can the young woman claim that she has been raped since she witnessed it from a first-person perspective and experienced the physical sensations of someone assaulting her without her permission? Can non-consensual or other forms of illegal virtual sex be considered real and punishable by our modern laws of reality? In most cases, the answer would be no. Why? It’s very simple: the defense can claim that it never actually happened because psychological trauma or not, there was never any physical contact between the non-consenting parties.

This, dear readers, is a very dangerous line. Imagine an old, creepy pedophile standing up in court and saying no, he didn’t actually touch the thirteen-year-old girl because they were online and what happens in a virtual world can’t possibly have any effect in the real world. Currently, all of our laws would be on his side because we don’t like to take into effect the psychological trauma that the online world can do to human beings. Teenagers commit suicide after being bullied online by their classmates, and we seriously expect our children to be fine after witnessing – experiencing – someone exploit them sexually? Bullshit.

Where am I going with this, you ask?  Just this: think before jumping headfirst into worlds where fantasy can all too easily become reality. We need to be aware of the dangers of virtual technology because if we’re aware, then we can combat those dangers. In the end, I want you to be cautious.

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