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Virtual Reality (VR) technology is being applied to a growing number of settings, branching out from the world of gaming into healthcare and other training opportunities.

In the Netherlands it has been embraced by the Probation Service, which is experimenting with virtual reality glasses to demonstrate to offenders the impact domestic violence has on their victims and also give probation officers a better insight into the issue. It also offers possibilities for those in substance misuse roles and offender health jobs to demonstrate the effects of drug abuse not just on the person but on their families and friends.

Highlighting offender behaviour

Dutch company Enliven Media, which develops VR experiences on social topics, has created scenarios to highlight the effect of domestic abuse, such as family arguments that end in violence.

Company founder Alex Tavassoli has worked on the “Don’t forget me” initiative with the Dutch Probation Service, drawing not only on his expertise as a game developer but also his own experiences of witnessing domestic violence in his youth.

In a post on the Confederation of European Probation website, he explained: “I had just finished my education as a game developer. I immediately thought: how can this new technique be used to tackle social problems? I started writing down the concept of a virtual reality experience that would make clear how it feels for children when their parents are fighting.”

VR offers probation officers valuable insights

From a small budget project in 2015 and working on a prototype with the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security which was tested by the Dutch Probation Service, the plan is to build an updated version with more characters and better scenery for use in the Virtual Reality clips.

Tavassoli added: “For probation officers our VR experience is valuable because it gives them the chance to actually feel how it is for a child when there is domestic violence in their house.”

Further potential for VR in probation work

The Dutch Probation Service was enthusiastic about the project and tested in on clients, quickly finding that offenders were starting to realise the effect their behaviour was having on their children.

It began to unlock meaningful conversations between probation officers and offenders, particularly as it highlighted the real impact of offender behaviour on those around them. Jolanda Mooij, a trainer, coach and policy officer at the Dutch Probation Service, said:

“Having a discussion will lead to better treatment and hopefully to better results.” The potential is already being recognised with the use of VR in training new probation officers, or training current staff on new techniques and approaches, helping clients in prison, and also people with anger management issues.
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