Virtual reality sexual harassment training lets people be active bystanders

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NEENAH, Wis. (WBAY) - A new virtual reality program may help employers better educate staff on what sexual harassment is and ways to effectively stop it. This comes after research finds traditional sexual harassment training may be ineffective and even promote inappropriate behavior in the workplace.

The VR sexual harassment training prototype is under development by J.J. Keller and Associates Inc. with the help of University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

Researchers at the university say traditional training is ineffective.

"About 25 percent of the people in my study were actually more motivated to engage in more sexual behaviors at work after they attended a legal compliance framed training session," said Shannon Rawski, Management and Human Resources Professor at UW-Oshkosh.

Rawski says traditional training puts employees in a negative spot because they would either play the victim or the perpetrator. With the virtual reality training employees are active bystanders, putting them in a position where they can step in and save the day.

"They're really looking for a positive role to play in these situations,” said Rawski, "how they can help and be an ally or a good bystander in these sexual harassment situations, rather than feeling they're being blamed for something that they didn't do."

The VR goggles put participants into real life situations where they can respond as a bystander in a sexual harassment situation in the workplace. Scenarios include a woman harassing her male coworker or a supervisor putting his hand around a woman's shoulder. After VR users see this happening, they’re given options of whether to intervene, direct, elevate or approach.

"It lets us recreate the situation. It puts you virtually in that situation and it's an immersive experience that lets you emotionally understand what happens in those situation,” said Brian Kubiak, Director of Marketing with J.J. Keller and Associates, "so that when that really does happen you kind of experienced it before."

The virtual reality training prototype is still under user experience testing which measures the effectiveness of the program. Kubiak says the product will come out after final changes are made.

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