"Netsex, tinysex, virtual sex - however you name it, in real-life reality it's nothing more than a 900-line encounter stripped of even the vestigial physicality of the voice," writes Julian Dibbell, in a 1993 article for The Village Voice entitled "A Rape in Cyberspace." "And yet as any but the most inhibited of newbies can tell you, it's possibly the headiest experience the very heady world of MUDs has to offer."
In the early '90s, before the idea of an online community was anything more than a whispered dream shared amongst a brave, lonely few, a member of the text-based MUD LambdaMOO named Mr. Bungle used a piece of software to commit rape. The software, called a voodoo doll, allowed Bungle to manipulate other members and "force" them to do his bidding. The doll was not rare in and of itself - voodoo dolls were occasionally used for play, occasionally for mischief - but Mr. Bungle would appear to have been one of the first to use one for sexual humiliation.
Dibbell relates the event in detail:
"The remaining facts tell us ... that he commenced his assault entirely unprovoked, at or about 10 p.m. Pacific Standard Time. That he began by using his voodoo doll to force one of the room's occupants to sexually service him in a variety of more or less conventional ways. That this victim was legba ... [who] heaped vicious imprecations on him all the while ... that he turned his attentions now to Starsinger ... forcing her into unwanted liaisons with other individuals present in the room. ... That his actions grew progressively violent. That he made legba eat his/her own pubic hair. That he caused Starsinger to violate herself with a piece of kitchen cutlery. That his distant laughter echoed evilly in the living room with every successive outrage."
legba had this to say after the attack:
"Mostly voodoo dolls are amusing. ... Mostly, [this type of thing] doesn't happen here. Mostly, perhaps I thought it wouldn't happen to me. Mostly, I trust people to conduct themselves with some veneer of civility. Mostly, I want his ass."
legba later admitted that while typing those words, decrying an act of "virtual" rape against her "virtual" self, she was experiencing a very real case of post-traumatic stress, crying very real tears over what she believed was a very real invasion of her personal and sexual sanctity. Even had she been able to tear herself away from her online self, even had she allowed herself to be driven away by Bungle's outrageous behavior, she would not have been able to save her character from the attack, or herself from the humiliation of knowing that others (her online family) were witnessing her virtual assault at the virtual hands of a rapist.
In a 1943 treatise entitled "A Theory of Human Motivation" (PDF), A. H. Maslow proposed the idea that human behavior was informed by a series of successive motivations grouped into five categories. His 10,000-word paper is often expressed as a simple pyramid diagram with the most basic needs (food, water, sleep and sex) at the bottom of the pyramid and the higher needs (love, self esteem, creativity, etc.) in ascending order, with Self-Actualization at the top.
"A person who is lacking food, safety, love, and esteem would most probably hunger for food more strongly than for anything else," writes Maslow, suggesting physiological needs take precedence, and that only after a person has met those needs will he seek to meet higher order needs and so on; which brings us back to sex. Let's say you've got all that food, water and shelter folderol taken care of, but what you really lack is sex. Your first order of business is going to be finding someone with whom to satisfy that need.