Saturday, October 22, 2016

Sexual Harassment in Second Life

Practically, speaking up against street harassment is not about being a hero, getting credit points to be in the good books of a girl or a chance to impress anyone. It is about making sure that everyone has the right to enjoy that spring breeze, golden clouds and chirping without feeling uncomfortable. 

Shahla Khan, Friends With Benefits: Rethinking Friendship, Dating & Violence


From the title of this story, I hope you understand that this will be a serious one.

(Significant Other nods approvingly.)

I’ve been meaning to do this story for a while.  But, recent developments in Real Life (R) in my country’s Presidential election (My apologies to the world for this one.) made it imperative, I felt, to get this story posted now.

(Significant Other tells me to hurry up and get to the point.)

I’m going to write about sexual harassment of women in Second Life (SL) from the perspective of one of its victims. 

Unlike my usual blog postings on serious topics where I’m removed and taking an almost academic approach, this one is up close and personal. 

This article is based on an interview with an inworld friend of mine.

Her name is Katelyn and in RL she’s a woman too.

We met during my frequent perambulations across the Grid. 

She was always alone and in a place with little traffic.

Naturally, being the inquisitive sort that I am, I asked why.

Her answer angered me because she told me that by doing this she receives much less sexual harassment. 

So, a talented woman comes into SL and practically hides from the community because of the abuse she receives.

Am I the only one who sees the problem here?

Katelyn and I have talked about this issue a few times and I asked her if she would allow me to interview her for this story.  She readily agreed and also permitted me to use her name. 

We both felt that RL events made this a timely and necessary discussion.

This is Katelyn’s story.

Katelyn came inworld originally like many do. 

 She wasn’t really socializing much in RL because of university workloads and the rest of what life throws at us when a friend of hers who used SL, got her to sign up thinking it would help her socialize a bit, even if not directly face-to-face with others.  So, Katelyn started meeting many people, and made some friends.  But, she found it to be a lot like RL.  People really aren’t that different no matter whether you’re looking online or offline. 

I asked about the frequency of sexual harassment that Katelyn’s experienced inworld. 

She laughed and that told me all I needed to know.

Katelyn added that you quickly lose count.  Some of it is fairly tame, she explains but some not-so-much. 

My next question was about the differences between her experiences of sexual harassment in SL, and what she’d endured in RL and how they differed?

Katelyn replied that people gain a lot more confidence when they are anonymous.  So, in SL its more frequent but the harassment itself isn’t really that different. Although in SL, she would say there are more direct propositions, whereas in RL its more comments about your appearance. 

Why do people act this way in SL, is it just the anonymity, I put to her.

Katelyn thought the reason depends on the person.  She couldn’t really say what drives them.  She does think the anonymity just brings out who they really are. 

I ask Katelyn if anything ever be done about it. 

She explains to me that there is a culture on the internet over the past several years where it has become "cool" to harass and "troll" especially vulnerable people and women.  Katelyn doesn’t think there is much we can do online, we can ban and we can block.  But, that’s just treating a symptom.  The real problem is in RL and the lack of respect people tend to have these days.  (Anyone who doubts this should just read some the media reports about the current US Presidential election.) 

Then I ask about what specific actions could be taken by victims to stop this behavior.

Katelyn laughed again.  (I learned in this interview what a really sharp wit she has.)

She said that she was not like most people and that she finds mockery works.  But, it depends on her mood. 

Continuing, Katelyn said that, sadly, she doesn’t think reporting really works at least not to Linden Lab.  Their response, and most people's response, is "block them."  Which doesn’t help when things have already been said or done, and doesn’t help if the person takes things to a public channel and say things about you and you cannot see them to defend yourself, she explained. 

I asked her what are some sims worse than others for sexual harassment. 

Katelyn replied definitely.   She finds the info hubs, full of "noobs", to be pretty bad because that’s where they come in with no idea about etiquette in SL even though common sense would say to default to RL etiquette.  Those people still see SL as a "game" though which is actually a whole other thing she issues with.  Also, the free nude places are centers of sexual harassment. 

My final question to Katelyn was how has this colored her SL experience.

She laughed and said that it’s made her a lot like she was in RL before joining.  She keeps to herself, she rarely IM’s anyone. If someone IM's her then she judges them based on their opening few sentences.  She will read their profile to get an idea of what they are going to be like and if it doesn’t meet a certain standard she doesn’t even bother responding.  Katelyn finds it easier that way. 

Katelyn shared a story with me about just how bad sexual harassment can be inworld.

Once, to try and get away from it, she adopted the form of a cat.  Some guy IM’d her asking for sex.  She said that she was a cat.  He replied that he didn’t care.

Imagine getting propositions like that every time you rezzed inworld! 

(One female friend of mine keeps a male alt avatar handy when she needs to come inworld and wants to avoid sexual harassment.  This alt has only been harassed twice compared to the countless times when she presented herself as a female.)

I wish that I could just write, “Knock it off, guys!” and that would be that.

Sadly, life’s not that simple.

But, I’ll still say it, “Knock it off guys!”

(Although, the ones who really need that message probably don’t read this blog.)

But, we can support women like Katelyn when we see this boorish behavior.  We can call it out.  We can ban or block bad actors from our communities and monitor the behavior in them to ensure that they are safe places for women. 

Most of all, we have to all the Katelyns inworld in our communities, befriend them, and let them know that they’re not alone! 

I want to thank Katelyn for her courage in coming out to speak about this problem inworld.  SL needs more people like her and we can’t afford to lose them.  I’d also like to thank her for taking the time to meet with me and to answer my questions. 

As always, I’m grateful to all inworld for their kindness and time in stopping to talk with a stranger who was passing through their lives. 

My Twitter handle is @webspelunker.  Please feel free to follow me and I’d be happy to follow you.

I can be found on Google+ as webspelunker Ghostraven.

My flickr Photostream is located here.

On Skype I’m webspelunker Ghostraven.

I welcome feedback from readers, please either comment on my blog or e-mail me at . 

            If you would like to read about my other adventures in Second Life
please click here.

            Open roads and kind fires!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Honestly I've found that the sexual harassment thing is worse in SL then most other online games/world's (pc only mind you I'm talking Xbox live is a whole other can of worms.) I couldn't tell you why this is just what I've noticed. I've played a number of free to play mmorpgs to and rarely get messaged like I do in SL. That said I don't let it bother me. It's annoying but it's very easy to mute someone you don't want to listen to so it's hardly worth complaining about for the most part. There have only been a few times I've been actually disturbed by the messages I've received. -moonieratty