Workshop report: VR vs. Hate Crime 

On August 22nd, a workshop was held at the University of the Police in Hamburg, where the English non-profit agency Mother Mountain Productions and the Manchester Police presented the virtual reality app “Affinity” for the further education of police officers. This application aims to familiarize police officers with hate crime situations in an empathetic and professional manner. The workshop of the Immersive Democracy project in cooperation with the Hamburg professors Eva Groß and Ulrike Zähringer offered prospective police officers and experts the opportunity to try out the English-language VR experience and discuss it with the developers and experts.

Hate crime is a major problem for diversity and inclusion in many European countries. It affects people who are exposed to discriminatory attacks as well as hostile acts based on their identity, such as racism, anti-Semitism or transphobia. Many victims complain that they feel that they are not taken seriously by the police or that they are treated inappropriately. Often, this is not due to bad intentions, but to a lack of empathy, understanding and training on the part of police officers.

How can police officers be prepared to deal with such situations in an empathetic and professional manner? The English non-profit agency Mother Mountain Productions, in collaboration with the Manchester Metropolitan Police, has created the virtual reality app “Affinity” to provide further training for police officers. This app enables them to experience real cases of anti-Semitic, transphobic, and ableist hate crime staged by actors, as well as appropriate and inappropriate police responses to the attacks. In the virtual environment, they can observe how their different approaches, body language, cultural competence, and understanding affect those affected. They also learn about the manifestations and narratives of these discriminatory phenomena in order to better recognize anti-Semitic statements, for example.

The app was developed with extensive research with victims of hate crimes, in order to increase empathy for these victims and to increase the professionalism of police officers. Data showed a high and long-term effectiveness of the app in terms of attitudinal and behavioral change among police officers, as well as a confirmatory effect among those who are already sensitized. Participants in the workshop also commented positively on “Affinity.” Statements from police students included:

– “It was like I was experiencing it myself”

– “I was spoken to directly”

– “You paid more attention than you would in a film, where you often look away and get distracted”

– “It made me understand more how the characters were feeling”

– “It’s a good way to get people’s perspective, which is important when they interact with the police”

– “I immediately felt a tension that I’m sure victims of hate crime feel when they know it could happen again”

During the discussions, not only were the experiences evaluated, but also the possibilities of using VR technologies in Germany with special offers to support victims of hate crime were discussed.

A detailed report will be published on this website in the coming months.

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