Fairchild Air Force Base uses virtual reality to help train for sexual assault prevention

MEDICAL LAKE, Wash – The Department of Defense says an average of 6,000 U.S. service members report being sexually assaulted each year. A majority of those are women. In the Air Force, around 1,000 people report being sexually assaulted.

A Sexual Assault Prevention Response (SAPR) unit aims to help victims come forward and get the help they need at Fairchild Air Force Base. The unit has been in place since 2005 and recently received a new tool to help airmen train to spot and help sexual assault victims: A virtual reality headset.

Tech Sgt. Lindsey Basham says she prefers the virtual reality headset rather than the normal training they get, which is in briefings and group settings.

The virtual reality headset allows airmen to walk through a simulation and help another airman in a sexual assault situation. The simulation guides the trainee in what to say to get someone the resources they need.

All airmen are required to go through sexual assault prevention training each year. While that happens, not all have encountered a situation where they’d have to utilize their skills.

“Sometimes when they’re approached for the first time, they don’t know what to say. This headset puts them in this situation and gives them that hands-on experience,” said Vada Martinez, a victim advocate with the SAPR unit at Fairchild.

“Having to ask those questions that are uncomfortable in a way, just saying them out loud sometimes is the first step,” Basham added. “I think the program has you asking those questions while you’re facing somebody who has clearly been through something.”

The SAPR unit has 20 victim advocates in units to help people. Basham is one; she says being a victim advocate has opened her eyes to the issues people go through.

Jessica Bradshaw, the sexual assault response coordinator at Fairchild, says airmen may feel a little more comfortable going to a co-worker like Basham to come forward about a sexual assault. That’s also why it’s important to have the SAPR unit on base.

“We understand the culture of active duty military. We’re here, we’re easier access and we’re a smaller community,” Bradshaw said.

The base only has one virtual reality headset so far, and it is waiting for more to come in. In the meantime, the base will continue their regular training, along with the VR training, for airmen.

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