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Legally challenging to deal with sexual assault in virtual reality, say lawyers

Joshua Tong Quoted in Straits Times: “Legally challenging to deal with sexual assault in virtual reality, say lawyers”

By | In the News

On 2 August 2022, The Straits Times interviewed Kalco Law LLC Senior Associate, Joshua Tong, in an article revolving around the question on whether current laws extend to sexual crimes in the virtual space.

Author David Sun explores these legal difficulties in the novel nature of virtual spaces as unlike the real world where the alleged perpetrators and victims are clear, the question of who the offenders and victims are in virtual realities (“VR”) can be debatable.

In a hypothetical question of whether molestation within the VR would be made out as an offence as provided under the Penal Code, Joshua offers that “the mere fact the victim’s sense of feeling is affected through the VR’s immersive experience is not sufficient” given how molestation under the Penal Code has an element of criminal force which requires physical contact with the victim’s body, clothes or accessories.

Joshua offered that “whether such forms of harassment should be punished with equal severity using the criminal justice system is a far more complex question. It would require extensive consultation and debate before a decision is reached, given the fact that the two situations are, on the surface, not identical.”

While it may be possible to deal with acts such as the above via a harassment claim under Protection of Harassment Act (“POHA”) for example, Joshua notes that it may not be sufficient for victims particularly “if one is of the view they have been sexually assaulted, a harassment claim may not give these individuals the redress they feel they deserve, especially given the fact that the penalties for harassment claims are a lot lighter as compared to the sentences for sexual offences.”