Virtual Reality can help in more precise evaluation of sex offenders


It is pretty common knowledge that sex offenders have to go through intense sessions of psychotherapy before they are released into the conventional scope of a society. However, what is not common knowledge pertains to a particular technique (for male sex offenders) called penile plethysmography. This entails the positioning of a ring-like sensor mechanism around the offender’s penis, while they are subject to a series of images or audio, which are used as stimuli. So, if the offender’s ‘inner’ sexual deviancy responds to such stimuli, the circumference of the penis grows – which in turn is detected by the ring.

Now, in theory, this technique seems straightforward (though surely intrusive), with physically focused gauging of what might be termed as sexual aberration. But there is a critical flaw in the ambit, and that is – the subject in question can easily move/divert his eyes away from the images, thus ultimately misrepresenting the results of the therapy. However, scientists at the Université de Montréal (University of Montreal) have come across a solution that might just do the trick, and it involves the use of virtual reality (VR) setups.

This new technological scope involves a visual scanning test that is combined with the aforementioned penile ring. To that end, the offender now is placed inside a cube-shaped enclosure called the VR vault, and then four to six screens of stimuli (generated from computers) are projected on to the inner cube walls. In essence, it pertains to a more immersive and interactive experience, where the subject can potentially reveal his ‘truer’ deviant side – without intrusion from external authorities. Moreover, a personalized perspective can brought on to the experiment, with virtual creations that intrinsically relate to the evaluation of the subject’s offence and psychology. In other words, the VR vault can include specific ages, genders and races of the virtual stimuli, thus accounting for a more precise result.

And, since we brought up the subject of precision, the other significant advantage of this setup is now the vault’s eye-tracking system can easily monitor the direction and the focus of the subject’s eyes. This not only allows the authorities to detect the subject’s visual participation (or lack thereof) in the experiment, but also allows them to take note of the time-instances when the subject is making actual visual contact with the stimuli’s erogenous zones.

Finally, coming to the realm of practicality, such VR-oriented tests have yielded encouraging results, with at least similar success rates to that of other methods used in current systems. Massil Benbouriche, a PhD student from of the University of Montreal’s School of Criminology, has further stated that –

Our data are conclusive, and we know that virtual reality has been effective in treating various anxiety disorders and phobias and is promising in treating schizophrenia. Virtual reality may become a frequently-used clinical tool in forensic psychiatry within the next few years, both for judging how dangerous individuals are and for determining their ability to control themselves under various situations tested in virtual reality, thus allowing us to measure the effectiveness of therapies.


Source: UMontreal

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