For the first time, crime statistics demonstrate that pedophiles are using VR headsets to view and store child abuse imagery.
Following a Freedom of Information request to all 45 forces in the UK regarding the number of child abuse image offenses, the NSPCC was able to obtain the information.
It was discovered that the police had eight offenses involving VR headsets on file.
The non-profit organization is cautioning parents that as children use virtual reality headsets to explore the so-called Metaverse, they are exposed to new risks online.
"We hear from young people who feel powerless and let down as sexual abuse risks becoming normalized," said Sir Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC. ".
With a VR headset, you can access the "Metaverse," a collection of virtual experiences like games, chat rooms, and experiences.
The company behind the Metaverse, Meta, was founded by Mark Zuckerberg. Meta has invested heavily in VR because it sees it as the industry's future.
By 2030, the UK government projects that more than £60 billion will have been spent on virtual and augmented reality technology.
In addition to being the CEO of Limina Immersive, Catherine Allen is an authority on virtual reality.
She declared: "Politicians and technology companies need to take seriously this emerging, quickly expanding threat.
"Online criminals will gather in areas with little oversight or regulation, and we can observe this happening in VR. ".
According to the government, the Online Safety Bill, which is currently being debated in the Lords, includes provisions for virtual reality headsets and the Metaverse.
If platforms fail to protect children, "companies will face huge fines and could face criminal sanctions against senior managers," according to a Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport spokesman.
However, the numbers related to VR are negligible when viewed in the context of the whole.
They revealed that a record 30,925 offenses involving the possession and sharing of pornographic images of children were committed in the years 2021–2022.
The NSPCC issued a warning that the issue's "unprecedented scale is being fueled by social media's lack of regulation.".
Although the statistics were "extremely alarming," Sir Peter said they only "reflect the tip of the iceberg of what children are experiencing online.".
In 9,888 offenses, social media or gaming websites were mentioned.
There were 4,293 offenses involving Snapchat, 1,363 involving Instagram, 1,361 involving Facebook, and 547 involving WhatsApp.
Virtual and augmented reality have been utilized legally in the world of adult sex work since their inception.
It has been asserted that it would only be a matter of time before the same technology was utilized to share illegal content, groom, and sexually exploit children.
In 2017, the BBC made the first discovery that children were being sexually exploited using VR headsets.
In this case, a man based in Egypt was promoting the purchase of online images and videos depicting child abuse.
He charged $160 (£132) for the VR access to that content. He asserted that a 360-degree camera was used to capture the video and provided "technical support.".
A Metaverse app reportedly allowed kids to enter strip clubs in 2022, according to the BBC.
Through the Online Safety Bill, the NSPCC is urging the government to establish a statutory position for a child safety advocate.
The Bill includes "tough, world-leading measures," according to a Department of Culture, Media, and Sport spokesman, to protect children.
In a statement, Snapchat said: "Snap has devoted teams working closely with law enforcement, experts, and industry partners around the world. ".
The statement continued, "We immediately remove it, delete the account, and report the offender to law enforcement if we discover sexual content that exploits children.".
The Meta headset, which is owned by Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and other companies, declared: "This dreadful content is blocked on our apps. ".
A spokesperson added, "We lead the industry in the development and application of technology to stop and remove this content.