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Augmented Reality Experience Aims to Enhance Empathy and Awareness for Survivors of Sexual Violence in Taiwan

Core Concepts
An Augmented Reality (AR) experience is designed to promote understanding and empathy towards survivors of sexual violence in Taiwan, while carefully balancing ethical considerations to avoid causing further trauma.
This paper discusses the development and implementation of an Augmented Reality (AR) experience called "Light up the Room" that aims to raise awareness and foster empathy towards survivors of sexual violence in Taiwan. The project was initiated by the Modern Women's Foundation, a Taiwanese non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to advocating for gender justice. The foundation recognized the limitations of traditional offline exhibitions in engaging the public on sensitive social justice issues like sexual violence. By adopting AR technology, the project sought to leverage the immersive and interactive capabilities of AR to enhance public engagement and cultivate a deeper understanding of survivors' experiences. The "Light up the Room" AR experience allows users to explore a survivor's room and interact with various objects that reveal the challenges they face, such as distrust of others, self-doubt, secondary victimization, and lack of understanding from family. These interactions are designed to transform the room from dark to light, symbolizing the process of illuminating the survivors' shadowed spaces. The goal is to deepen the public's understanding of the survivors' circumstances and create a more supportive environment for them to seek external help. The project's implementation highlights the selection of the Meta Spark AR platform on Instagram, which offers accessibility, ease of development, and cost-effectiveness for the NGO. However, the platform's policies also impose certain limitations, such as restrictions on content that may be considered shocking, sensational, or violent. The discussion emphasizes the importance of finding a balance between educational content and emotional sensitivity when addressing sensitive social issues like sexual violence through AR experiences. The project deliberately shifted the focus away from the actual moment of sexual violence to avoid directly exposing users and survivors to the trauma. This approach was informed by the Modern Women's Foundation's previous experience with a controversial public awareness campaign, where a victim's negative reaction led to the removal of the advertisement. The paper concludes by acknowledging the potential of AR to enhance understanding and empathy, while emphasizing the need for further research to perfect the balance between impactful advocacy and emotional well-being in the context of AR-based social justice initiatives.
In Taiwan, a third of the respondents (33.4%, 293 individuals) to a 2023 survey had experienced sexual violence, and a significant portion (39.2%) of these respondents had never disclosed the incident to anyone.
"To address the critical issue of sexual violence and foster public support for victims, the foundation has traditionally utilized offline exhibitions to educate and engage the public. Recognizing the limitations of traditional methods, the foundation decided to adopt Augmented Reality (AR) in 2023, leveraging AR experience's unique capabilities to enhance public awareness and empathy toward social justice issues." "By adopting AR experiences, interactive technology features not only boost public engagement [2, 3] but its capacity to establish an Immersive Virtual Environment (IVE) [17] also cultivates a sense of presence [9]. This feeling of "being there" is essential in fostering intergroup empathy [1, 7, 16], thus rendering the content of social justice engaging and encouraging individuals to delve further into the topic [14]."

Deeper Inquiries

How can the AR experience be further refined to strike a balance between emotional impact and avoiding potential re-traumatization of survivors?

To refine the AR experience and strike a balance between emotional impact and avoiding re-traumatization of survivors, several strategies can be implemented. Firstly, the focus should be shifted away from depicting the actual moment of sexual violence and instead concentrate on the aftermath and support mechanisms available. This approach, as seen in the "Light up the Room" project, allows users to empathize with survivors without directly exposing them to triggering content. Additionally, incorporating interactive elements that highlight the emotional journey and challenges faced by survivors, such as the distrust of others, self-doubt, and lack of understanding from family, can deepen users' understanding without causing distress. Providing clear triggers or warnings before potentially sensitive content is displayed can also give users the choice to engage or skip certain parts of the experience. Moreover, conducting thorough user testing and gathering feedback from survivors and mental health professionals can help identify areas of improvement and ensure that the AR experience remains sensitive and impactful. Collaborating with advocacy groups and experts in the field of trauma-informed care can provide valuable insights into best practices for addressing sensitive topics like sexual violence in AR experiences.

What other innovative approaches or technologies could be explored to address sensitive social issues like sexual violence while maintaining ethical considerations?

In addition to AR, other innovative approaches and technologies can be explored to address sensitive social issues like sexual violence while upholding ethical considerations. Virtual Reality (VR) can offer a more immersive and controlled environment for users to engage with sensitive content. By creating virtual scenarios that simulate real-life situations, VR can provide a safe space for users to learn about and empathize with survivors' experiences without triggering trauma. Interactive storytelling platforms, such as interactive documentaries or narrative-driven games, can also be utilized to raise awareness about sexual violence in a compelling and engaging manner. These platforms allow users to navigate through different perspectives and make choices that impact the outcome, fostering a deeper understanding of the complexities surrounding the issue. Furthermore, incorporating Artificial Intelligence (AI) chatbots or virtual assistants programmed to provide information, resources, and support to individuals affected by sexual violence can offer a confidential and accessible way for survivors to seek help. These technologies can be designed to offer empathetic responses and guide users to appropriate services while respecting their privacy and autonomy.

How can the insights from this AR project be applied to enhance empathy and understanding towards other marginalized or underrepresented groups in society?

The insights gained from the AR project on sexual violence can be applied to enhance empathy and understanding towards other marginalized or underrepresented groups in society by following similar principles of immersive storytelling, interactive engagement, and sensitivity to trauma. By creating AR experiences that highlight the challenges and experiences of different marginalized groups, such as refugees, LGBTQ+ individuals, or persons with disabilities, empathy can be fostered among users. Utilizing AR to showcase the daily struggles, discrimination, and resilience of these groups can help bridge the empathy gap and promote social inclusion and understanding. Interactive elements that allow users to step into the shoes of marginalized individuals, experience their perspectives, and make decisions that reflect real-life dilemmas can deepen empathy and awareness. Moreover, collaborating with community organizations, advocacy groups, and individuals from marginalized communities to co-create AR experiences can ensure authenticity, representation, and ethical considerations are prioritized. By amplifying the voices and stories of marginalized groups through AR, a more empathetic and inclusive society can be cultivated, leading to greater awareness and support for social justice issues.