Research: Virtual Reality successful in partner violence training.

Research by the Netherlands Probation Service shows that, with the right form of interaction, VR can have a major impact on behavioral change among perpetrators of domestic violence. Read more about the research into VR Domestic Violence.

How the domestic violence pilot: ‘Don’t forget me’ (prototype) has led to behavioral change among perpetrators of domestic violence.

Before the virtual reality (abbreviated: VR) glasses are put on, the user assumes the following role:

Your name is Joris, you are in primary school and you have a number of friends. Joris likes tinkering and football. He has a baby sister named Kim. In the evenings he is often alone in his room. After this the simulation starts. You are George. You look and walk around in your nursery. It’s late at night and you hear Dad coming home. Your joy is short-lived, because mother rushes directly at father. This is how the quarrel is caused downstairs in the hallway. Mother suspects father of cheating and is frustrated that she has to spend all day looking after the children and he keeps coming home late. You don’t see it all right, but you hear the whole fight. Kim starts to cry and mother threatens to leave with ‘the kids’. At that moment the argument escalates, glass clinking can be heard in the hallway. Through the crack of the door you see father and mother standing. Kim starts to cry louder and louder. Dad loses control and slaps mom in the face. Mother then furiously attacks father. As Kim starts to scream, Mother, who has been thrown to the ground, lets her tears flow too. She crawls into the nursery where you stand and says to you: ‘No problem Joris, mom and dad are just arguing a bit’. This is everyday life through the eyes of Joris…

Impression VR Domestic Violence
Impression simulation: Domestic violence

What would happen if it were possible for the participants to experience for themselves what it is like to experience the quarrel between parents through the eyes of a child?

Research with the ‘Forget me not’ pilot at BORG

With its BORG (End of Mutual Relational Violence) program, the Netherlands Probation Service provides training to perpetrators of intimate partner violence who are under the supervision of the judiciary. This training is mainly focused on awareness and behavioral change of this group. The training is divided into modules, with one module on the consequences of the violence. This module, in which the participants talk about the violence itself, turns out to be difficult. Often offenders do not realize that the violence has harmful effects on the children, as they are not directly involved. Perpetrators often claim that the children do not suffer from the quarrels, do not hear the quarrels at all or eventually forget. In addition to talking, it turned out that another way was needed to get through to this group by means of mirroring. What would happen if it were possible for the participants to experience for themselves what it is like to experience the quarrel between parents through the eyes of a child?

Exactly this new form of empathy is offered with the simulation ‘Forget Me Not’. This prototype was developed by Enliven Media on behalf of the Ministry of Justice and Security. The Netherlands Probation Service investigated the effect of the simulation on the participants, and whether in the long term (after six weeks) there was actually some form of thought and behavior change.

Recent research shows that VR can have an impact on adjusting behaviour.

Virtual reality: a lively experience in a safe environment

This simulated three-dimensional environment via a computer, also known as apparent reality, completely immerses the user in another world. The user is moved in a virtual world by means of special VR glasses (or Head Mounted Display) and headphones, as if it were reality. This immersive experience closes the user off from reality and takes his eyes and ears along through the experience.

The technology offers two modes of virtual realities: one is 360-degree video and the other is interactive VR. These may be compared, but offer a completely different experience. 360 degree videos can be intrusive and offer a broadened view. However, the developer creates a lot of distance because the user participates passively and watches from a distance. Recent research shows that with the right form of interaction, VR can have an impact on influencing behaviour. Through VR training, the user receives immediate feedback on his behaviour. In this way new behavior can be practiced in a controlled and safe environment. This can hardly be achieved with 360 degree video, because of the passive nature of this medium.

7 out of 10 participants have noticed behavioral change in themselves.

From short-term results to effective impact

The credibility of the VR simulation was positive for the majority of the participants. The participants indicated that they felt the same way as the boy Joris. A lot of emotion was released during this simulation. The emotions most often mentioned are sadness, powerlessness and worry. In addition, a range of feelings were mentioned by the participants such as: anger, fear, insecurity and despondency. Overwhelmed with fear, most of the participants had wanted to intervene during the fight. It was certainly exciting. Concerns about the safety of mother and sister were also raised during the experience. The striking thing was that only a few participants were concerned for their own safety. The recognisability of the scenario was of paramount importance to the participants. The majority of the participants found the VR experience to be of added value during their BORG training.

After six weeks, about seven in ten participants noticed changes in themselves. Participants indicated that they are more aware of the fact that the children suffer from the quarrels. Most also admitted that they now know better how it feels for the children to witness the quarrels between their parents. The participants said that they are now better able to end the quarrel if there is an impending or ongoing quarrel in the vicinity of the children. They also realized that their aggressive behavior towards their partner and violence in general would have a negative effect on the children. Because of this behavioral change, all participants considered themselves a better father. In addition, some indicated that they had developed genuine feelings of guilt. Some of them felt guilty about the quarrels at home, which the children suffered. The participants unanimously had the impression that the recurring quarrels had damaged the trust of the children.

A conclusion with a view to an improved future

The simulation of the arguing parents had a major impact on the participants. So strong, that it brought back memories of the past in some. The simulation might look ‘cartoonish’, but it took the participants into the story. The message is clear, because the story concerns a daily situation and the violence is not exaggerated. Being able to empathize is the core of the entire immersion. The BORG trainers noted that participants were able to talk more easily about the violent situations after experiencing the VR simulation. The topic of conversation was inevitable. The simulation apparently touched the participants on a deeper emotional layer. The participants could literally put themselves in the position of the child. This allowed the participants to be vulnerable and to respond to the needs of their own children. The behavioral change came about because the participants were able to reflect on their behaviour.

At the beginning of 2018, a subsidy was made available for the further development of this simulation. Improvements will be made to this, such as a more realistic designed room and lifelike animations. Below is a small preview (first concept phase) of the room.

Impression VR Domestic Violence

In this way, this application of VR offers many possibilities to increase empathy about various social topics. These can be widely used by, for example, perpetrators, bystanders, victims and (prospective) professionals. In the coming year, several simulations will be developed around various topics, including mild intellectual disability, neighborhood nuisance (problem neighbourhoods) and victimization of robberies. Like the success story of the ‘Forget Me’ domestic violence simulation, our goal is to create more success stories in the coming years.

Would you like to stay informed about the developments surrounding this product? Then sign up here for our newsletters. Curious about the implementation of this product within your organization? Please feel free to contact us. Would you like to participate in the (further) development of one of our simulations or propose an idea yourself? On you will find an overview of the latest projects. We look forward to receiving your request or proposal. This can be done via the ‘become partner’ form on our website.

This article is a summary of: ‘Forget Me Not’: How Arguing Parents In A Virtual Environment Influence The Emotions Of Violent Perpetrators. Written by RenĂ©e Henskens, Bernd Wondergem, Jolanda Mooij, Christel van Zon and Lisette Schoutens and published in the Proces magazine.

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