Air Force uses virtual reality to combat sexual assault

The Department of Defense faces a calculation when it comes to sexual assault and harassment in the military. Now the Air Force is employing new technologies in its prevention training in the hopes of combating fatigue and getting aviators to better retain knowledge.

Air Mobility Command (AMC) is piloting a virtual reality program for mandatory sexual assault prevention and response (SAPR) training of its military and civilian employees.

“The goal is for this training to be to create an immersive and engaging training where aviators aren’t on their cell phones, they’re not zoned, they don’t send text messages, they actually have to pay attention,” said Carmen Schott, Managing Director. AMC SAPR programs. “When you are in the virtual world, you are there and you have to be involved. You need to be present and use your voice to speak to an aviator who needs it right in front of you. It includes this experience for aviators and helps increase their skills, knowledge, and abilities on how to answer some of these questions about sexual assault programs. “

During training, aviators wear a virtual reality helmet. The headset transports the aviator to a dining room, where a fellow aviator — played by an actor — entrusts them. The participant’s job is to convince the actor to get help.

The headphones show different answers for the learner and the actor will react differently to each answer.

“It’s very realistic even though it’s virtual,” Schott said. “You look around and you can see everything behind you on the ground. It is very real. It’s really amazing. Their voices are there and you are interacting with them as if they were with you in front of a desk or a table ”.

The program is currently deployed at Charleston Joint Base in South Carolina and will be moved to Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas later this summer.

The training is a multifaceted three-part curriculum consisting of:

  • Two 30-minute role-playing scenarios for all Air Force personnel, in which the group helps the victim of sexual assault to connect with the right resources, as well as practice spectator intervention skills .
  • A 30-minute role-playing scenario for victim advocates, who provide immediate and ongoing support to victims with resources and information on care options and reporting to improve their interaction skills.
  • A 30-minute role-playing scenario intended for squadron leadership to properly apply Air Force guidance when faced with tests of sexual assault in the workplace.

The service partnered with Moth + Flame, a virtual reality developer, to create the program.

“This is such an important issue, and by bringing people into environments where they have to deal with difficult situations, we can help prepare them for the time when these scenarios are presented in the real world,” said Kevin Cornish, CEO and founder of Moth + Flame. “The Air Force has been a great partner in working with us to address these complex and serious issues, with training that improves the way we respond to such situations.”

The Air Force awarded the contract through AVVentures’ innovative small business research program AFWERX.

In 2020, the Air Force reported 1,661 cases of sexual assault in its ranks.

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