Helping survivors of gender-based violence through Virtual Reality

 PHOTO: NCA/Håvard Bjelland
PHOTO: NCA/Håvard Bjelland

Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) seeks to develop a therapeutic intervention using Virtual Reality to help overcome shame, self-blame and social isolation among survivors of gender-based violence.

What is the humanitarian challenge?

During humanitarian emergencies, the risk of gender-based violence increases, including intimate partner violence, child and forced marriage, exploitation, and sexual violence. This has deep impact on women’s and girls’ mental health and psychosocial well-being. Self-blame, shame, and social isolation are common experiences among survivors worldwide. In humanitarian contexts, a myriad of challenges hinders survivors’ access to the specialised mental health and psychosocial support services they need to recover. The challenges are ranging from lack of locally available services, overburdened or underqualified providers, distrust of providers, and stigma against survivors.

 

What is innovative about the project?

This project specifically seeks to address three common psychosocial issues amongst survivors: shame, self-blame and social isolation. The aim is to develop a therapeutic intervention that is delivered through Virtual Reality (VR) to help overcome these issues and, ultimately, help survivors heal from trauma, reconnect with their communities, and work toward social change.

VR-assisted therapeutic interventions have shown promising results in addressing a range of mental health issues, including trauma, social phobias, depression and low self-compassion. VR is touted as a safe place to learn, fail, and practise new ways of being; however, its application in humanitarian settings is limited.

 

What are the expected outcomes?

NCA will work closely with a selected private sector partner in the process of prototyping and field testing a VR tool for NCA’s caseworkers and their relationships with potential users will be pivotal to this process, which will involve user sensitisation and caseworker training on both the therapeutic modality and VR technology.