A 43-year-old woman recalled how three male avatars groped her less than a minute after she entered Facebook’s virtual world.

Nina Jane Patel watched and listened in horror through a virtual reality headset as computer-generated version of herself was groped by three realistic male characters, reported Daily Mail. The mother-of-four had logged into the Horizon Venues metaverse and created her avatar. On a visit this month, Patel from Lambeth, South London, entered the "lobby," which is a virtual space serving as an entry point. Within seconds she was pursued by the three men’s avatars, who groped her and subjected her to a stream of sexual innuendo.

Though she could not actually feel the avatars’ hands, Patel suffered from anxiety since the attack in the virtual world. She fears for the safety of her three teenage daughters and other women in the virtual world.

She recalled that she entered the Horizon Venues metaverse as an avatar who looked just like her -- "middle-aged, blonde and dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved top." As she entered, three male avatars, who all had male voices, came towards her and "touched me inappropriately." Before she knew what was happening, they were taking screen shots of them touching her avatar. She said that while touching her avatar, they said things like, “Don’t pretend you don’t love it.” Patel tried to move away but they followed her.

The attack wasn’t the first time she had seen the darker side of the metaverse, which experts predict could be worth up to 500 billion pounds ($6,72,77,75,00,000) a year by 2024. Referring to one of her first visits to Horizon Venues last December, she said that there was what sounded like a young girl, maybe about 10, "being accosted by what sounded and looked like a male." According to her, the male avatar was forcing his face on to the girl's face and she was shouting, “Stop it. Get off me.” But other avatars just stood by and did nothing.

Horizon Venues has introduced a "safe zone," which is a bubble that avatars enter to avoid interaction with others, but Patel said that the website’s protection is not adequate. Patel is now creating Kabuni, her own educational metaverse for kids aged eight to 16, that will have stricter parental controls. Her mission is to create "safe and secure virtual reality experiences."

Commenting on Patel’s experience, a spokesman for Meta, Facebook’s parent company, said that they are "sorry to hear this happened." According to the spokesman, Horizon Venues should be safe and they will continue to make improvements as they "learn more about how people interact in these spaces."

If reviews on the Venues website are anything to go by, Patel is not the only user to have been abused. A user, Darren627025, said that within minutes "I was getting abused." Another user, Ladybug137, was "sexually harassed within 30 seconds!"

According to Daily Star, Nick Brett, of London law firm Brett Wilson, said that where a woman has been "sexually assaulted virtually, that itself possibly ought to be illegal but isn’t at present.”

Metaverse logo
This illustration photo taken in Los Angeles on October 28, 2021, shows a person using Facebook on a smartphone in front of a computer screen showing the META logo. - Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday announced the parent company's name is being changed to "Meta" to represent a future beyond just its troubled social network. The new handle comes as the social media giant tries to fend off one its worst crises yet and pivot to its ambitions for the "metaverse" virtual reality version of the internet that the tech giant sees as the future. Photo by Chris Delmas/AFP via Getty Images

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