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    Brave new world or virtual pedophile paradise? Second Life falls foul of law
    Email Print Normal font Large font Chris Johnston
    May 10, 2007

    WHEN is child pornography not child pornography? Can an “avatar” commit a crime? What is real, and what is not?

    These are questions being asked amid an emerging under-age sex case in online computer game Second Life.

    Second Life is an internet-based virtual world with 6 million players worldwide — including about 5000 in Australia — in which players custom build a representation of themselves (an “avatar”) by choosing looks, age, gender and colour. Second Life players can earn real money by buying land, earning rent and selling goods. Mostly it is good, clean fun. But like real life, sex is popular.

    Now German prosecutors are trying to find players who reportedly bought virtual sex with other players, who were posing as children. A pornography investigation has ensued.

    In Germany, “virtual” child pornography is illegal and punishable by up to five years in jail. In the US it is not a crime. In Australia it is somewhere between the two and is largely untested.

    “This is a constant grey zone,” said Monash University new media lecturer Brett Hitchins. Law was dictated by the country or the state but the internet was neither and there was no internet-specific law. “Like everybody, I think child porn is abhorrent,” Mr Hitchins said. “But is this a real thing going on, or a fantasy? And if it’s a fantasy, could it encourage or permit something real?”

    There are adult and “teen” areas in Second Life but they are impossible to monitor. Some players dress up as children with no sexual motivation. But so-called “age play”, in which players can enact fantasies with child avatars, has encouraged a growth in players posing as children in order to make money.

    In Victoria, under section 67A of the Victorian Crimes Act, a person who engages in virtual sex with a child avatar or who deals in virtual child porn could be successfully prosecuted, lawyers said.

    The act does not mention the internet or virtual reality, but does include imagery in computer games that “describes or depicts a person who is, or appears to be, a minor engaging in sexual activity or depicted in an indecent sexual manner or context”.

    It is illegal to publish such images, and a game such as Second Life could be deemed to be a “publication”, said Connor O’Brien, the chairman of the Law Institute of Victoria’s criminal law section.

    “If you have two adults and one is pretending to be a child and there is sexual activity then I would say guilty,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be a real child. I think being a virtual child would be enough.”

    Melbourne criminal lawyer Stella Stuthridge will later this year defend a Victorian man who she said faced similarly unusual child pornography charges. The man, from country Victoria, allegedly manipulated images — both cartoon and real — in a children’s website. When his computer was repaired the evidence allegedly was found. Users of the website were mainly British children.

    Ms Stuthridge said one of the difficulties of the case was its nebulous location.

    “Where, exactly, did the alleged offence occur?” she said. “The law is in a constant battle to keep up with technological advances.”

    The Second Life case was revealed by a German investigative reporter.

    San Francisco company Linden Lab, which runs the game, has said it will help police. With GUARDIAN

    Hybrid Dawn

    hmm..that’s a tricky situation. I’m not even sure what I’d do in that situation…

    I think the most logical thing to do would be to send him to therapy and just be monitored by someone. Until he actually does something more serious than virtual fantasizing, I’m not sure that it’s fair to charge him. Perhaps a fine on top of it.


    But, the thing is, people are charged with possessing child pornography.  they also haven’t actually done anything, just fantasized about doing things to children.  Though, in that case, someone along the way did something illegal with these kids for the pictures to exist.  But, they’re still basically being prosecuted for thinking about something.  It’s a grey area, but I think one that people have agreed is too dangerous to risk.  The belief is that, if someone is fantasizing, they will eventually act on it.  And there probably is a case for it.  Otherwise we wouldn’t have so many online stings to catch people. 

    I’m also not sure.  It is a grey area.  But do we risk waiting until they hurt a kid?  I’m sure people are already reacting internally at the thought of it.  I know I am.  So perhaps a psychological evaluation is needed to determine how ‘guilty’ they are.  I’m sure there are plenty of people who are no danger to society.  I think this is where we need to accept intuitives and psychics and utilize them.  Otherwise, we don’t have much chance of really knowing what they think and feel. 

    Hybrid Dawn

    but possessing actual child pornography is harmful to the child…an adult playing a cyber child isn’t.


    There is a lot of truth in the phrase “its the thought which counts!”. Any action begins in the head. No-one can deny that there are people with weaknesses. To make something like this public gives vulnerable people with problems the necessary kick to realise their fantasies. And even if one child suffers as a result it is one too many. The power of example is not to be underestimated. What remains in your head is your bussiness but as soon as its made public we all become involved. Is it not a moral duty to stop this? Can we afford to have a grey/tollerance area especially where children are in any way endangered?

    Hybrid Dawn

    That’s why I say he should be monitored and fined, and of course have his internet privelages removed.
    But until he actually does something, they have no right to charge him of anything more.


    Except, as soon as you’ve taken the thought and acted on it, via role playing, it’s no longer just a thought.  Now it’s a thought that you’ve added action to.  And there is also the problem of acting further – that requires molesting a child.  Are you really prepared to wait that long?  What if you were that child that had to be molested before someone stepped up and did something about the adult? 

    I know it’s a complicated issue, but children do not have the same ability as adults to get out of bad situations. 

    Besides, for those who just get off on…whatever it is…if they can’t get that same quality from someone who is 18, then there is a very real issue there.  That means they are fixating on the age and the illegal aspect of it.  That makes them dangerous.


    I agree with you there Jax. How can anyone think of waiting until something concrete happens. And when it does whose going to help that child. I sorry that I am so radical, but I cannot understand anyone contemplating to tolerate such things. I don`t think I am wrong when saying that all actions start in the head. We just have to open the newspapers, turn on internet or TV, or even look around us. I think that anyone who has a child of their can understand this most!


    The easiest solution to this is. Don’t do it. *Wipes invisible dust of his hands* Another case solved by…Alchemic_Wrath!

    Kol Drake


    So, if some guy logs on and makes a female avatar and walks around interacting with others ‘as a female’ — in what countries is this okay as ‘virtual crossdressing or virtual transgender-ism’?  Same if a female ‘plays’ as a male?

    In some country somewhere, I am certain it is against some law.  So, these people — because they played in a virtual world as virtual people… they should be fined/jailed for having ‘done’ a virtual act?

    So — all those whackos playing Doom/Halo/some other online shoot-em-up should also be jailed since they acted out their obviously blood thirsty tendencies?  Because they did more than ‘think it’ — they have made the leap to actual blood thirsty killers running around with BFGs and chainsaws????

    We are coming very close to ‘Thought Police’ situations here….

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