VR helps modify the behaviour of perpetrators of domestic abuse

Virtual reality helps modify the behaviour of perpetrators of domestic abuse to change the lives of victims, children and young people

Following the news that a number of new amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill are to be presented aimed at giving greater protection to victims and further clamping down on perpetrators, a ground breaking new intervention tool has been producing excellent results among perpetrators and survivors of domestic abuse.

In early 2020, Antser partnered with the London Borough of Redbridge to pilot the use of virtual reality (VR) immersive storytelling as a tool to disrupt domestic abuse and improve outcomes for victims, children and perpetrators.

VR immersive storytelling is a proven tool in increasing understanding of the child, increasing empathy in adults and assisting adults to develop new behaviours to respond to children and young people. The pilot aimed to disrupt perpetrators’ behaviour and encourage survivors of abuse to remove themselves from abusive situations by giving them the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of an unborn child or 18-month-old.

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 domestic abuse through modifying the behaviour of perpetrators. 

Goldsmiths found evidence that perpetrators were motivated to engage with the technology and the immersive films, which in turn, facilitated perspective taking and a desire to change behaviour – particularly for the benefit of children.

After using the VR, one perpetrator said the footage had impacted him “really deeply” and made him more conscious of his behaviour with his partner, children and around vulnerable people.

Another found the footage “powerful” and “moving” and said it had become very realistic for him based on his own past experiences. As a result, he had started to make active changes so his children “don’t grow up in the same environment like me”.

Impressively, in the six months following the intervention which used the VR content, none of the participants invoked any further police action or contact related to domestic abuse.

Councillor Jas Athwal, Leader of Redbridge Council said: “Tackling domestic abuse is a priority for Redbridge council, as we want all residents to feel safe in their homes. Our frontline staff identified that we needed to work directly with the perpetrators of abuse to tackle the root causes.

“The partnership with Antser VR enabled us to do this, as their technology permits perpetrators of abuse to see first-hand how their actions can have a lasting impact on children.

“Pilot studies in Redbridge have already identified that 85% of the perpetrators who took part in the VR study said it made them think differently about their behaviour. In the 14-months following their participation, 90% of the perpetrators had not been involved in any incidents requiring intervention.

“We will continue to explore how this technology can be used to reduce domestic abuse in Redbridge and improve the lives of children and young people.”

Alison Alexander, Strategic Director at Anster, said: “These findings speak compellingly to the lasting effectiveness and impact of the intervention augmented with VR. Children and young people who are exposed to domestic abuse experience emotional, mental, and social damage that can affect their life chances.  It is fundamental that we use tools such as Virtual Reality to help protect children and secure better life outcomes for them and their families.

“In order to respond to the overwhelming issues associated with domestic abuse, our ambition is to improve the effectiveness of interventions in not only helping to protect those who are survivors of abuse but also to change the behaviours of the perpetrators for the benefit of all involved.”

Using 360-degree immersive films and virtual reality headsets, Antser’s VR enables the viewer to walk in the footsteps of children and young people, creating better understanding and thereby increasing empathy and securing behaviour changes. 

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