The British government is beginning a public consultation to consider whether virtual child abuse should be treated as the real thing.

Although there's nothing illegal about it, authorities are worried about worlds created for the Internet in which users can abuse virtual children.

Second Life is a virtual world created by -- and home to -- nine million internet users.

A British investigator created a virtual personality for himself and began looking at Second Life's enormous sex industry. Inside a virtual shopping centre he found a hidden wall, behind which was a playground with computer-generated children offering sex.

It's feared that these fantasies could be dangerous.

"My concern is when that person steps out of the fantasy world, they actually bring that fantasy with them into the real world and will ultimately seek to act that out," Jim Gamble, head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre told CTV News.

Beneath a high school, Gamble's online persona found a dungeon where girls are sexually abused and beaten.

It's considered likely that real pedophiles go to these virtual places to act out fantasies and meet one another.

Gamble warns users that, although they may feel safe, some people they meet may be investigators.

"We will infiltrate these rooms," he said, "whether they are in Second Life, in a chat room, a social networking environment, a peer to peer group, or outside the local youth club in the real world."

The legality of the user-created world could change as well. The British government is beginning a public consultation to examine virtual child abuse.

British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith is worried that "even if they're computer generated, if they develop the sort of attitudes in sex offenders that may lead them to abuse children, that's a bad thing, and that's why we're consulting to try to control them."

Even though computer users are allowed to invent such virtual realities, video game companies would not be permitted by law to show such forms of abuse.

With a report by CTV's Tom Kennedy