This is how it has been for as long as I can remember. In RL, just as in VR, a user can harass another and get out of hand. What makes RL significantly different is the physical presence. An offending person who gets our of hand risks being physically assaulted, arrested, or ostracized. In short, there are repercussions that can ruin the rest of the offender's life. However, online there's not really anything the defendant can do to retaliate. Log off, I guess. Report inappropriate usage. Still, the worst that can happen to the defendant is banishment. Today the laws may be different in extreme cases, I'm not totally sure. However, I don't think that really applies to this paper.
I think what I'm trying to get at is the significance of physical presence. In RL, because both parties are actually there, a very offended person could throw a punch or call for help as a retaliation. However, online, even though there is less opportunity to retaliate effectively, the assault generally seems less personal (this is assuming neither party knows the other in RL). That means that, for me anyway, it is harder to be truly offended. If some other user were to somehow virtually sexually assault me, it would probably take an awful lot before I would actually feel hurt. Yet in RL, because of the presence of the offending party, it is clear that they can see, touch, smell, and otherwise know me. My race, gender, looks, and any observable features or behaviors are readily available as targets of ridicule. If someone makes an insult using this information, I personalize the insult and feel hurt. If someone makes a jab online, not really knowing anything about me other that what I may have posted, how can I possibly be as offended? They don't really know me, so what they say about me is unfounded.
This isn't the same as offending a group of people. I feel that races, sexualities, and other groups are much easier to offend online. No one needs to know me personally to insult the people who are like me. And if they insult the people in my demographic, I can internalize that insult and feel hurt. I think one could argue that the incident in LambdaMOO was an assault on women in general. If that's the case, that would explain why the victims felt so personally offended.