Air Force launches virtual reality program to combat sexual assault

Published: Jul. 15, 2021 at 6:28 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 15, 2021 at 6:26 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The United States Air Force is rolling out a new virtual reality sexual assault prevention program, and airmen at Joint Base Charleston will become some of the first to try it out.

While thousands of sexual assault incidents have been reported in the Air Force over the last couple of years, officials say they have a strategy to help lower those numbers. The Air Force says they hope a new immersive technology can start to bring that number down by educating airmen through a hands-on experience.

Joint Base Charleston is receiving about a dozen virtual reality headsets that take users through a 30-minute, real-life situation involving a fellow airman who is struggling after being sexually assaulted. The goal is for the participant to handle and report the situation correctly.

At the end of the experience, the Air Force says there is a quiz to go over how the situation was handled. The Air Force has a Sexual Assault Prevention and Response protocol, also know as SAPR.

SAPR Sexual Assault Response Coordinator Carmen Schott says this is the first step in combating sexual assault in the military.

“They need to work on how do I talk to this person in front of me? What resources are available? And they may not know,” Schott said. “But this experience is going to lead them through this difficult conversation with a real airman in need and give them those skills and those tools to get comfortable having a difficult conversation.”

Charleston is one of just two Air Force bases to receive this equipment, but the plan is to distribute it across the nation.

Last year there were more than 1,600 reports of sexual assault in the U.S. Air Force according to the Secretary of Public Affairs for the Air Force.

The program is one of four modules SAPR plans to roll out, but the others will also be geared specially towards certain rankings and situations.

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