is "online rape" really rape?

In Julian Dibbell's A Rape In Cyberspace, he tells the story of an attack on certain characters within a virtual world. The attack he describes is not a physical one, but one contained fully within a textual world online. Dibbell talks through the evolution of the fiasco and eventually reaches the conclusion that what had transpired was rape. Dibbell reasons this because he believes that "rape can occur without any physical pain or damage" and that rape "must be classified as a crime against the mind" (page 213). I disagree both with Dibbell's label of the incident as well as his definition of rape.

Firstly, I do not believe that an attack on the body can ever be classified under the same category as an attack on the mind. The approach in each case is different, and they must be treated as such. With a physical attack, one can attempt to flee or resist, but sometimes there is nothing one can do. Sometimes the victim becomes completely and utterly helpless after which time he/she suffers physical and emotional pain. However, online, the circumstances are different. No matter how invested you are in an online community, if you close your eyes, it all goes away. If you minimize the window, you are transported back into the world of your desktop background, whether it be outer space or a tropical beach. If you are in a chatroom and you use the ignore command, the danger disappears and your foe is vanquished. For these reasons I see online and physical "rape" as two completely separate things. With online "rape", you have countless tools at your disposal to help you deal with attacks. If you really don't want to have to deal with someone, you can make them go away. You have that power. For these reasons I would be more inclined to call it "abuse" or "annoyance" rather than "rape". In the real world, however, you can close your eyes and ignore your attacker all you want, but you are still going to suffer physical damage.

Now I am not saying that people should go around virtually attacking others. It is not a kind thing to do and since the satisfaction gained from doing it (if there is any) is derived at the expense of others, I believe that it is immoral. However, rather than punishing those who do it, we as a society should aim to be more aware of the ways and strategies in which we can employ in order to protect ourselves. In a world with no rules where you have the option of ignoring or tuning people out, you can not punish someone for saying what they want to say. So in the instance of Mr. Bungle, I think I might have to say that he should not have been "toaded", for he broke no rule by saying what he did. If there was a rule in place that he had broken, then I would argue that by breaking the rule he was accepting the consequences that come along with doing so, and he should be rightly punished. I guess in Dibbell's classifications this puts me somewhere between the "parliamentarian legalists" and the "technolibertarians" (page 206), for I believe that rules ought to be created if people do not want these occurances in the future, but also that people should be able to defend themselves in case someone does decide to break the rules.

Online occurances are tricky things to deal with. They can toy with your emotions and beliefs in ways in which you never thought you could be affected. In light of this, online experiences should always be taken with a grain of salt, always keeping in mind that, yes, there is a real world out there.