Testimony is one of the most profound and powerful applications of virtual reality that I’ve seen so far. It’s an experimental documentary that captures the stories of sexual assault from five women broken up into five segments. You’re completely immersed within a virtual sphere with these five stories that are represented as sequences of circles on different lines. As you look at a specific circle, it comes into the full frame and plays a 2D video segments from that victim either sharing their story of sexual assault, the aftermath, their process of healing, or their ideas for how to reform the criminal justice system. The depth of immersion and intimacy that the virtual reality medium enables allows you have much more capacity to provide your full attention and to bear witness to these stories of deep emotional intensity. It’s a radical application of VR that represents a revolutionary approach to healing from trauma.
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Testimony premiered at Tribeca in April, and I had a chance to catch up with Zohar Kfir to talk about the challenges and shame that sexual assault survivors experience. We also talk about how the virtual reality medium is uniquely suited to provide a platform and medium for sexual assault survivors to share their stories of survival. It’s been a profoundly healing experience for these women to authentically share the emotional intensity of their sexual assault experience, as well of the challenges in dealing with the criminal justice system, and process of healing from trauma.
Testimony shows that virtual reality is able to carry a depth of emotional intensity of trauma that previous mediums where maybe not as well suited for. The interactive nature of Testimony provides the affordance of being able to look away from a testimony story if becomes too intense, and it’ll stop playing and you’ll retreat back into the sphere of women metaphorically standing in solidarity with each other.
I think that it’s an experience that would be difficult to pull of in previous 2D mediums, and I think that it demonstrates how VR has the unique capacity to discuss the types of trauma that was only previously discussed behind closed doors in the context of a therapy session. The level of emotional intimacy and presence that you can achieve in VR allows for a reciprocal transmission and reception of topics that have been either too taboo or intense for previous communications mediums.
Kfir also has plans to make keep this project going as a living and interactive document. So other sexual assault victims will be able to record their stories of sexual assault and contribute them to the project where they can be witnessed and heard. Providing a platform for having your sexual assault trauma being heard, witnessed, and believed is going to have profound healing implications for the women who participate. It’s a form of distributed and asynchronous Truth and Reconciliation process that will allow victims to release their shame, humiliation, and trauma around being sexually assaulted.
There’s still a long ways to go to reform the criminal justice system around cases of sexual assault, but Project Callisto that was recently announced. It allows victims to report the details of their sexual assault and their perpetrator online. If there are multiple reports against the same person, then it will trigger the criminal justice process and optionally connects the women. This is a huge improvement in the current process, and seems to be a model that has been gaining some traction in other countries.
Testimony is now available as of June 1st, 2017, and it’s one of the most profound and moving experiences that I’ve had in VR so far. Definitely check it out, and share it with your friends and family. You can learn more information from their Testimony website, or follow online with the #ShatterTheSilence hashtag.
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