Newsweek: Virtual Reality Training for Sexual Harassment?

Feb 02, 2015

Newsweek covered the research of SMU clinical psychologist Lorelei Simpson Rowe and her co-authors Ernest N. Jouriles and Renee McDonald. Simpson Rowe, an associate professor and graduate program co-director in the SMU Department of Psychology, is lead author on the pilot study from SMU.

The virtual-reality simulation component of “My Voice, My Choice” utilizes a software program developed by Jouriles and McDonald in conjunction with SMU’s award-winning Guildhall video gaming program. Jouriles and McDonald are clinical psychologists in the SMU Psychology Department. Jouriles is professor and chair. McDonald is a professor and associate dean of research and academic affairs for Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.

Results of their study found teen girls were less likely to report being sexually victimized after learning to assertively resist unwanted sexual overtures and practicing resistance in a realistic virtual environment.

The effects persisted over a three-month period following the training.

Newsweek journalist Lauren Walker interviewed Simpson Rowe, who told Walker, “We don’t want to support victim blaming of any kind,” she said, “so what we emphasize instead are these are skills you can use to protect yourself, like locking your door…but the only person who is responsible for the occurrence of any kind of violence or victimization is the perpetrator.”

The Newsweek article, “Virtual Reality Training for Sexual Harassment?” published Feb. 2.


By Lauren Walker, Newsweek

Most women have dealt with unwanted sexual advances. In fact, one national survey estimates that 65 percent have experienced some form of street harassment. But a study out of Southern Methodist University found that teenage girls were less likely to report being sexually victimized after undergoing assertive resistance training in virtual reality.

While virtual reality is routinely used to train soldiers or treat anxiety disorders, training of this nature is new.

Virtual simulations “seem to be more immersive than face-to-face role plays,” said clinical psychologist Lorelei Simpson Rowe, the study’s lead author. “The participant is not thinking any more about being in a room in a psychology study with other people around,” she is “focused on what she is seeing through the glasses and what she’s hearing.”

The study included 78 female students aged 14 to 18 from an all-girls urban high school. First, all were asked to fill out questionnaires related to their experiences with sexual violence and victimization. Next, the girls were split into two groups; 42 participated in the “My Voice, My Choice” (MVMC) training program, while 36 remained in the control group and received no training.

Each 90-minute training session was led by a female facilitator and included two to four young women. The group first discussed what assertiveness means and what it looks like, and then the bulk of the training was practicing these skills in virtual simulation.

“A lot of times when women engage in verbal standing up for themselves, it is very hard because we are pretty much socially conditioned to be agreeable,” said Kelli Dunlap, a doctor of psychology, JoLT fellow at American University and self-proclaimed huge gamer. “The idea of being in an environment that is building and practicing those skills so that you can take them into a real world scenario, I think that can be really helpful.”

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