Serena Hadi, Head of Service at Antser discusses how virtual reality can be used as an intervention and prevention tool to help reduce domestic abuse cases around the world.
A Lancet report published in 2022, the largest of its kind, revealed that more than one in four women worldwide experience domestic abuse (DA) before the age of 50, and that roughly one in seven women (13%) – almost 500 million globally – had experienced domestic violence within the last year of the research being conducted.
Pulling on data between 2000 and 2018, the analysis of 366 studies involving more than 2 million women reached an estimate that 27% of women aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a male partner in their lifetime.
Domestic abuse is a crime which crosses all genders, cultures, sexualities, abilities and disabilities, age groups and socio-economic groups. However, the concept that domestic abuse is a private matter has been accepted across society for far too long.
It is thought by many experts that the COVID-19 pandemic has not only heightened the awareness of the ongoing domestic abuse crisis, but also acted as a catalyst. There are fears that the number of domestic abuse cases are now higher than ever.
While the number of DA reports continues to grow, solutions to tackle the issue have remained more or less the same. As technology and virtual reality (VR) rapidly becomes a viable intervention, prevention and learning tool, it poses the question, can VR help tackle domestic abuse?
Findings from a PwC 2020 study has shown that learning through VR is four times faster than through classroom methods, and that 40% of individuals reported more confident to apply their learnings when experienced through these means. In addition, individuals also reported that they were 3.75 times more likely to be emotionally connected to the content they were learning about.
We know first-hand that perpetrators can change their mindset and behaviour. It is through innovative partnerships with the London Borough of Redbridge and Antser, a leading technology solutions provider, that has revealed how immersive technology is successfully working with perpetrators of DA. VR presents perpetrators the unique opportunity to experience their own behaviour in a 360 VR headset and to witness first-hand their abusive actions through the eyes of their child and partner.
Setting out with the aim to disrupt perpetrators’ behaviour, the partnership also focused on equipping survivors with the knowledge and confidence to remove themselves from these situations.
The pilot’s findings were independently evaluated by Goldsmiths, University of London, to discover if VR could be an effective tool in changing the life outcomes of families affected by DA through modifying the behaviour of perpetrators. Goldsmiths found strong evidence that perpetrators were motivated to engage with the technology and the immersive films, which in turn, triggered a desire for them to change their behaviour – particularly for the benefit of children.
Further evidence from the partnership suggests that VR is a viable intervention tool. Revealing that 85% of the domestic abuse offenders who took part in the study thought differently about their behaviour afterwards. Impressively, in the 14 months following their participation, 90% of the perpetrators had not been involved in any incidents requiring intervention, further demonstrating Antser VR’s effectiveness.
One perpetrator said the VR footage had impacted him so deeply that it had made him ‘more conscious of his behaviour with his partner, children, and around vulnerable people.’
This is where technology, and most specifically VR, has an important role to play in bringing about lasting change. It has the power to transport someone into the shoes of another, on the receiving end of an abusive situation, allowing them to experience trauma and ask themselves: “How would I feel?” and “What would I do?”.
Often referred to as the next iteration of the internet, experts are already predicting that the VR/AR market is forecasted to reach close to 226 billion GBP by 2024, meaning VR should not be taken for granted or underestimated.
Given the accelerated need for new and innovative solutions, and the rising number of domestic abuse cases during and post-pandemic, there is an opportune moment for VR to be considered as a tool to help support change and potentially the face of how we approach health and social care in the future.