Thousands of women participate in multi-user online worlds such as Second Life. In these online communities, women can use their online personas - their avatars - to chat, fight, make friends and even get married. Yet the freedom that makes multi-user online worlds attractive to so many women can also pose risks.
Virtual sexual harassment is, unfortunately, commonplace, ranging from verbal or textual harassment, to being confronted by overtly sexual avatars, to having one's avatar sexually attacked by another avatar. Sometimes attackers are able to use built-in features on the online world to gain control over another person's avatar without their consent. In Second Life, for instance, "collars" which enable an avatar to gain control over another avatar can be built into many online objects without the knowledge of the other user.
Virtual sexual assaults are often traumatic and deeply upsetting for the victims, sometimes to a greater extent than the victims themselves would have anticipated. The victims of the infamous 1992 LambdaMOO rape case, for instance, were surprised at the strength of their own reactions. One victim told a reporter that, as she wrote about the experience, "posttraumatic tears were streaming down her face". She was a long-time participant in online communities, yet she was "baffled and overwhelmed by the force of her reaction". Such reactions to virtual sexual attacks are common, particularly when victims have experienced real-life sexual assaults .