In France, a trial uses VR to provoke empathy in domestic abusers

In an attempt to break the cycle of domestic violence, virtual reality producer Reverto is working with the French Ministry of Justice to trial a program that provides perpetrators with a virtual experience of abusive situations. 

In a 12-minute portrayal of a couple's daily interactions, the participant is placed in different roles: that of the victim, the abuser and a child witnessing abuse. Since there's a correlation between low cognitive empathy and violence, the idea is to help abusers understand what victims and bystanders are feeling and thinking.

Reverto's program is being tested now in three penitentiary centers. If results are positive, it will be rolled out throughout France. Enliven in the Netherlands and Virtual Bodyworks in Spain have been working on similar programs.

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While research indicates VR might not function as 'the ultimate empathy machine' it was heralded to be, results could improve as VR and AR technology accelerates, and as therapies are tested on younger generations that feel at ease in simulated environments. 

The need for effective interventions is undisputed. Worldwide, "27% of women aged 15-49 years who have been in a relationship report that they have been subjected to some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner" — domestic abuse against men isn't as thoroughly studied — and the COVID-19 pandemic led to a spike in violence.

Related: Bogotá hotline aims to dial down violence by getting men to open up

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