Questions about accountability and illegality of virtual rape
Virtual rape is not a new phenomenon in virtual communities, as Julian Dibbell’s 1993 article pointed out, but it is beginning to gain attention in some scholarly circles. Of the articles specifically covering virtual rape, most focus on whether or not virtual rape is “real” while some attempt to isolate its social construction. Only one scholar to date has argued the legality of the offense, but limited the discussion only to consensual virtual rape. With this in mind, this thesis is focused on defining non–consensual virtual rape, comparing and contrasting it to other types of online deviance such as cyberstalking, sexual harassment, cyberbullying, flaming, etc., contextualizing the distinction between rape and virtual rape, and applying First Amendment dialogues and arguments to determine its current legality in the United States. Since virtual rape is considered speech or expression, this thesis concludes that it is currently protected by the First Amendment, but that with proper “digital DNA” as evidence, victims may seek retribution in civil court against the aggressor and possibly against the owner of the virtual environment in which the virtual rape occurred.