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"As the saying goes, the thought is written in water, and the deed is written in stone.Events that take place in virtual worlds seem to lie somewhere in between, a kind of water with memory." He compares rape in a virtual realm to flashing in a real one.

They say that by manipulating the doll he forced them to have sex with him, and with each other, and to do horrible, brutal things to their own bodies.

Like many in academe, all I knew about avatar rape was what I had read about it.

Bungle in the text-based virtual world, Lambda MOO: They say he raped them that night.

They say he did it with a cunning little doll, fashioned in their image and imbued with the power to make them do whatever he desired.

In one section, Mac Kinnon introduces a feminist definition of rape that involves damage to the self that may be physical, emotional, psychological or material.

"In this way," he writes, "rape becomes an assault not against a persona, but against the person behind the persona." Tim Guest, author of Second Lives, believes sexual assault in virtual worlds is real and imaginary.In researching the phenomenon, I sought viewpoints from directors of information technology and women’s studies at Big XII and other peer institutions.My research assistant Sam Berbano and I spent two months working with our Institutional Review Board, seeking approval to post our survey online.Then I witnessed an online sexual assault — and had a witness, too. Thankfully, he couldn’t read the chat in the text bar of my monitor.Tom Beell, a journalism professor at Iowa State, asked me about Second Life, knowing I had researched and written about it. In 30 years in academe, I have encountered homophobia in an inappropriate joke or offhand remark about lesbians, gays or transsexuals.So we opted for a snail mail version with a disclaimer: “A risk of participation in this survey may arise if some may find your opinions in the free-response section at variance with their own.” My research assistant wondered how a survey measuring opinion about avatar rape could have more potential for harm than participation in a virtual environment in which such a digital act could occur.


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