Upon first reading Julian Dibbell’s piece, “a Rape in Cyberspace,” I was instantly engaged and pulled into the story behind it. One of the initial observations that made me so responsive to the piece was the fact that it was beautifully and colorfully written in the most eloquent, descriptive, and fluent prose. Substantially, the piece was intending to inform me about something much more serious than simply the manner in which it was written, however, the writing stood out to me and grasped my interest in a way in which no piece had ever grasped me before. Next to this, the events described within the piece concerned me and made me think about the ethical issues within the situation altogether.
One of the first thought provoking quotes noted that “The actors in the drama were university students for the most part, and they sat rather undramatically before computer screens the entire time, their only actions a spidery flitting of fingers across standard QWERTY keyboards. No bodies touched. Whatever physical interaction occurred consisted of a mingling of electronic signals sent from sites spread out between New York City and Melbourne, Australia,” (Dibbell). Describing the situation and setting the tone in which a virtual rape among other things took place, Dibbell notes within this quote that the setting and people involved prior and during the crime were just ordinary – despite this, and at a great physical distance at that, an awful virtual crime that hurt multiple people within the same virtual space ended up happening. In addition, no bodies were touched during the tragic event, yet it hurt those involved and scarred them for life. “Virtual rape is by definition sudden, explicit and often devastating. If you’ve never immersed yourself in online life, you might not realize the emotional availability it takes to be a regular member of an internet community. The psychological aspects of relating are magnified because the physical aspects are (mostly) removed,” (Regina Lynn). Having that said, Dibbell reasoned and came to the conclusion, and moments before reading it similarly did I, that the virtual rape that occurred in that virtual space was a physical crime not only of the body but of the mind. “Sometimes, for instance, it grew difficult for me to understand why RL society classifies RL rape alongside crimes against person or property. Since rape can occur without any physical pain or damage, I found myself reasoning, then it must be classed as a crime against the mind,” (Dibbell). In addition to this, Regina Lynn of Wired.Com wrote something complementary in her article about virtual spaces and rape within them, “Rape has mental and emotional elements that go beyond the body, and the damage to the mind and spirit generally takes much longer to heal than the body,” (Regina Lynn).
Such a crime, in my personal opinion, whether in virtual reality or in real life, should be addressed to the authorities. Some argue that online offenses, such as these occurring in LambdaMOO, aren’t nearly as serious as the real life versions of these offenses or crimes because nothing “physically” happened. “Don’t whine to the authorities about it. Hit the @gag command and said asshole’s statements will be blocked from your screen,” Dibbell notes of those arguing this point, but warns, “and only yours. It’s simple, it’s effective, and it censors no one,” (Dibbell). However, in argument with the stance that one could simply block the offender, blocking the offender’s comments from one’s personal screen will not bring justice to the entirety of situation – it won’t help to stop the offender from doing what he is doing, and his comments will still be posted for the rest of the people to see. “The extremely public nature of the living room meant that gagging would spare the victims only from witnessing their own violation, but not from having others witness it. You might want to argue that what those victims didn’t directly experience couldn’t hurt them, but consider how that wisdom would sound to a woman who’d been, say, fondled by strangers while passed out drunk in the middle of a party and you have a rough idea how it might go over with a crowd of hard-core MOOers,” (Dibbell). Dibbell brings up an excellent point within this quote, noting that if these crimes were public displays happening in real life, those surrounding the crime taking place would react and attempt to help or stop the offender, in this case, from doing what he is doing.
I must admit that I was thoroughly surprised after reading the last few lines of Dibbell’s piece. “The Bungle account had been the more or less communal property of an entire NYU dorm floor, that the young man at the keyboard on the evening of the rape had acted not alone but surrounded by fellow students calling out suggestions and encouragement, that conceivably none of those people were speaking for Bungle when he showed up in emmeline’s room to answer for the crime, that Dr. Jest himself, thought commonly to have reincarnated the whole Bungle and nothing but the Bungle, in fact embodied just one member of the original mob,” (Dibbell). Upon reading this last bit, I was actually in complete shock. I couldn’t believe, and still can’t believe, that the offender was actually composed of many offenders – it honestly made me ill to read that a room full of people would act in such an evil and inhumane manner, and that not one person in the room behind the keyboard that night felt the ethical need to stand up against what they were all collectively agreeing to do.