Joint Base Charleston sees virtual reality as a way to combat sexual assault between airmen Military summary

NORTH CHARLESTON – A group of 20 Charleston Joint Base commanders stared at their “Oculus Quest 2” virtual reality helmets, but were not watching any flight simulators or shooting in a video game.

It was too real a situation.

In their headphones, they watched an immersive video explaining what an aviator should do if a fellow worker told them they were sexually assaulted and needed help.

Addressing the growing number of cases of sexual assault and harassment in the military is an overwhelming but necessary task, and the Department of Defense is working on several reforms and innovations to try to train members of the service how to target their peers to help them. if they face that. situation.

SAPR Victim Advocate Susie Griggs instructs volunteers to facilitate virtual reality training in sexual assault prevention and response at the North Charleston Air Force Joint Base on July 15, 2021. Hadley Chittum / Staff

On July 15, members of the Charleston Joint Base service were the first to try out a virtual reality program that simulates a tough conversation with an aviator. The goal of the video simulation is to get your colleague to trust you and help you build trust to report an assault to the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.

Colonel Marc Greene, commander of Charleston Joint Base, said innovative training was crucial to his command.

“I think it’s an issue we need to address because everyone deserves to be respected. Everyone deserves their dignity and it’s not just a military issue. It’s a social issue that we should make a party to make sure this doesn’t happen.”

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Kevin Cornish, CEO of Brooklyn-based New York-based virtual reality company Moth + Flame, was awarded a $ 750,000 contract with the Air Force to help lead immersive training using virtual reality headsets. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has challenged branches to think of innovative technology to become members of the service and Cornish answered the call.

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SAPR Victims Volunteer Advocate Briana Rogers remains as participants complete virtual reality sexual assault prevention and response training at the North Charleston Air Force Joint Base on July 15, 2021. Hadley Chittum / Staff

“One thing Secretary of Defense Austin said was that he encouraged forces to look for creative solutions,” Cornish said. “And when you think about using this cutting-edge technology to train pilots. Why don’t we use the same cutting-edge technology to train people?”

A painful reality

According to a Department of Defense study submitted to Congress, last year there were at least 6,290 reports of sexual assaults in the military. And there has been an alarming increase since the 2,828 incidents reported in 2012.

In particular, the Air Force received a total of 1,683 reports in 2019. The exact numbers of the Charleston Air Force base were not released by the base due to privacy concerns, a Joint Base spokeswoman said. Charleston and The Post and Courier.

Many members of the service do not report incidents of sexual assault or harassment for fear that their stories will be made public or returned to their peers. The video simulation developed by the Cornish company puts you in a situation where an aviator entrusts you to the rest room of an Air Force base who have been sexually assaulted and are hesitant to get help.

In the realistic experience, you should gain the trust of your partner by respecting their privacy and giving them the courage to report the incident.

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In addition to training aviators on how to keep these conversations serious, it also educates them on what resources the Office for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response can offer, such as private reporting and legal remedies if a service member decides to prosecute. .

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Sergeant. Nicole Rush, who has served in the military for 15 years, went through virtual training and said it was an important reminder that the responsibility for reporting sexual assault and harassment lies with everyone.

“I think there’s always doubt because it’s a very sensitive issue and not just dealing with facts. You deal with people and you never know how people will react to that kind of thing,” Rush said. “That’s why it’s so important to have this information on hand for all aviators so that they know the sources to which they can send people and know their options.”

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One participant has a controller while conducting virtual reality sexual assault response and prevention training at the North Charleston Air Force Joint Base on July 15, 2021. Hadley Chittum / Staff

Austin, who was named secretary of defense by President Joe Biden, has addressed the sexual assault epidemic among his top priorities. Earlier this year, it instituted an independent review committee to examine what each branch does to stop inappropriate behavior between the ranks.

It was alarming. The findings, in a nutshell, identified a “wide chasm between what leaders believe is happening under their orders and what members of the junior recruiting service are actually experiencing.”

“The next step”

Austin has promised radical changes since that review.

“My first full day as Secretary of Defense, I pledged to do more as a department to combat the scourge of sexual assault and sexual harassment on our armed forces,” Austin said in a May 2 note. July. “Like I said then, this is a leadership issue and we will lead.”

The Secretary of Defense has said the Pentagon will work with Congress to change the Uniform Code of Military Justice to shift the responsibility of military commanders to prosecute sexual assault and related crimes, as well as crimes of domestic violence, child abuse and retaliation.

With commanders no longer managing the pursuit of sexual assault, the department will set up offices dedicated to each military branch to manage the role.

Austin wants sexual harassment added to the list of crimes detailed in the UCMJ. Sexual assault is already listed as a crime.

Making these changes to the UCMJ, which is part of federal law, requires congressional approval. But there are non-judicial punishments in military service. Austin led each service to standardize, in full force, non-judicial punishments and establish a separation process for service members against whom sexual harassment claims are justified.

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In particular, immersive training is just a small step in tackling sexual assault in the military. After the virtual reality training, the commanders gave input to the developers of Moth + Flame. While some said they felt it wasn’t realistic enough or that the responses felt too planned, many felt it was a good point to start encouraging group discussions among aviators about sexual assault.

“This is just the next step. We need to be willing and able to embrace new technologies to provide a more realistic training experience,” Greene said. “Because that ultimately prepares our younger aviators to be prepared for that conversation when it arrives.”

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