Why VR works for bystander intervention training

By now, most people have seen the horrifying video of a 65-year-old Filipino woman, Vilma Kari, being brutally attacked as the staff in a condo building look on and at one point, close the building door, rather than trying to intervene. As the number of attacks on the AAPI community mount, many of us are starting to think about how we would step in if we witnessed an attack — but knowing how to react in the heat of the moment is something many of us simply aren’t ever taught.

Many years ago, I witnessed a violent fight between a man and a woman on the street in my Brooklyn neighborhood. In a matter of seconds, I had to decide what I was going to do — should I risk my own safety and run across the street and intervene? Should I just keep walking to the grocery store and let others take care of it? In the end, I stayed on the other side of the street and called the police. I don’t know what happened afterwards, and I still don’t know if I made the right decision.

Most of us are blessed not to encounter these situations often; then again, because we so rarely find ourselves in these situations, we aren’t trained how to react once we are in them. Because it is so unfamiliar, we tend to do the safest thing possible — retreat, do nothing, and hope that someone else steps in.

But what if we could use VR to train for these types of situations? Imagine a full complement of bystander training, starting with anti-bullying training for young children and moving up from there. By the time someone has finished high school, they could be trained on all sorts of interventions, from stopping teasing or verbal harassment to dealing with physical attacks. There are a handful of active shooter VR trainings in the market, including one that Walmart used and is credited for saving lives during a mass shooting in a Texas store. But I haven’t seen any others that deal with other types of intervention.

These would need to be customized for different comfort levels, of course — a burly, athletic man puts himself at a lower risk intervening in a physical altercation than a petite woman. But the trainings can even start with what to look out for so a report can be made — we’re coming up on twenty years of “if you see something, say something” ads on every form of public transit, but no clear measure of how exactly we should do that.

The more people feel comfortable speaking up and taking action, the better. We as a collective owe it to populations targeted for violence and discrimination to be able to step in and nip harassment in the bud. If you are interested in sponsoring one of these trainings, please reach out, as we would love to help you make one.

Founder and CEO at Friends With Holograms. Adjunct at NYU. Bylines Billboard, Ad Week. Speaker. Ultrarunner in my spare time.