In America alone, there are only 98 seconds between sexual assaults, according to RAINN. Perhaps even more disturbing than that already worrisome statistic is that, of those assaults, every 8 minutes, the victim is a child. Although sexual violence has fallen drastically in the last twenty years, RAINN makes it clear that this is an ongoing problem in America, and only 0.6% of perpetrators go to prison. Of course, this does not account for those plentiful encounters that go unreported. And it isn’t just women–1 out of every 10 rape victims are male.

Virtual reality is ushering in its own issues regarding sexual ethics and even consent. Researchers on virtual reality porn have already brought up concerns about using 3D models of real people to create “revenge porn” and using the virtual space to engage in sexual activities that could be considered degrading, violent, or far beyond what the users would participate in during real-life scenarios.

While, in one sense, using virtual reality as an outlet for deviant sexual thoughts could be therapeutic and even beneficial to society, there are certainly many people concerned about the ethics of these sorts of scenarios as well as those who are redefining what we mean when we say “consent” in this new and multiplicitous reality. Do you need someone’s consent to model them for virtual reality and to have sex with that model? These are the sorts of questions ethicists are asking.

Virtual reality is also being used as an advocacy platform for the survivors of sexual trauma and allowing users an intimate and heartfelt perspective on an issue that is often hushed.

Testimony is an interactive virtual reality documentary that gives a gut-wrenching view into the stories behind five survivors of sexual abuse.

Five people come forward to give viewers, many of whom have experienced some form of sexual assault themselves, information about the scenarios under which they were absued as well as society’s reaction and their own choices based on those reactions.

For example, Lucy, describes a scene which by her examiner was deemed “not abuse” (likely due to the involvement of a male athlete.) The “not abuse” scenario is one in which Lucy is carried, unconscious, to a dorm room where her abuser had sex with her unconscious body then left her lower half nude on display while he had a snack and talked with friends until she awoke.  

Testimony uses many storytelling elements to make for an immersive VR experience which allows the user to choose what they hear and when, and it respects the survivors in the documentary as well as those who are listening. Recounts of sexual abuse can cause significant distress for survivors, and documentary viewers simply need to turn their heads away from the speaker if they need the story to stop to regather themselves.

The longer a viewer watches the victims, the more alive they come as they brighten from black and white to full-color.

The survivors in Testimony include four women and one man, all of whom answer multiple questions that viewers can listen to in any order.

These aren’t re-enactments. These are personal accounts from real survivors that encompass not only the abuse itself, but the aftermath. What happens in life after you’ve been violated? How do things change?

Many people who have not experience sexual abuse see the event as a one-off thing. There is a traumatic time, and then it is over.

This is not the case. Sexual trauma can haunt people throughout their lifetime and color everything they do including future relationships–even with their spouses.

Testimony lets viewers empathize with sexual assault survivors and see the long-term effects of this rampant issue in a safe space while face-to-face with the survivors themselves.

 

Have you experienced Testimony? What other VR projects do you know of that are a force for good in the world?