This paper is written by Nicolas Barnes, Maria V. Sanchez-Vives and Tania Johnston.

Virtual Realityirtual reality (VR) allows the user to be immersed in environments in which they can experience situations and social interactions from different perspectives by means of virtual embodiment. In the context of rehabilitation of violent behaviors, a participant could experience a virtual violent confrontation from different perspectives, including that of the victim and bystanders. This approach and other virtual scenes can be used as a useful tool for the rehabilitation of intimate partner violence (IPV) perpetrators, through improvement of their empathic skills or for training in non-violent responses. In this perspective, we revise and discuss the use of this tool in a prison environment for the rehabilitation of IPV perpetrators with a particular focus on practical aspects based on our experience.

Focus of the paper

In this article, they draw on their experience investigating the use of immersive VR in different prisons and rehabilitation settings, to highlight the usability of such a tool for managing risk factors in intimate partner violence (IPV) perpetrators, and to consider how to best integrate immersive VR sessions into their traditional treatment programs. They mainly focus on practical considerations, directly derived from their experience, and the opportunities and challenges of importing this powerful tool into prisons. Some of this research has been carried out in the context of the European research project: VR per Genere (Virtual Reality Prevention of Gender Violence in Europe based on Neuroscience of Embodiment, PeRspective, and Empathy; www.vrpergenere.com), which aims to use the advantages of VR for the prevention of IPV and for the rehabilitation of perpetrators through the improvement of classic rehabilitation strategies outlined previously. As will be developed below, our work proposes VR as a promising method for improving empathy and reducing specific risk factors for perpetration in offenders (Seinfeld et al., 2018Barnes, 2020Johnston, 2021) and as a means for individualizing treatment to participants’ specific needs in a cost-effective manner, through the presentation of different scenarios. The VR per Genere project also deals with using VR tools for the prevention of gender violent behaviors targeting younger populations.

The current paper will group practical considerations into three themes: (1) considerations related to the individual differences between offenders; (2) considerations related to the factors that may affect the response of the offenders when talking about their VR experience; and (3) considerations related to the prison environment in which immersive VR is applied. This specific segmentation is operational, but these three themes are highly interrelated.

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