Virtual reality film demonstrates future of sexual assault prevention

Photo+by+Kaelie+Rose.

Kaelie Rose

Photo by Kaelie Rose.

The future of sexual assault prevention was on display this week. Senior Ian Andreen brought the film The Party to campus, which used virtual reality technology to show viewers a sexual assault first through the eyes of the perpetrator and survivor.

After showing the film to members of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity, Andreen organized a series of viewings open to the entire campus. According to Andreen, viewers have overwhelming found the film powerful and said that while it is difficult to watch its message is important. The film is being shown at Whitman and three other colleges this fall as part of a pilot project by IndieFlix, who own the right to the film. IndieFlix hopes the pilot project will convince the It’s On Us organization to expand viewings to 50 to 100 schools next year.

“This is a really unique opportunity for our campus to pilot this and see it before the rest of the nation gets it. I think it’s important as many people as possible see it, if only for the experience to see where sexual violence prevention could go,” said senior Brandon Paris, who is President of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity and helped organize this week’s screenings.

The Party premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this year, where it attracted a large amount of attention. Ian Andreen’s mother, Scilla Andreen, is the CEO and co-founder of IndieFlix. She saw the film and arranged for IndieFlix to help bring the film to college campuses. Other than Whitman, pilot screenings are taking place at the University of Oregon, University of Illinois, and U.S. Naval Academy.

Ian Andreen is part of the college’s Sexual Violence Prevention (SVP) committee and the head of Phi Delta Theta’s internal SVP committee. While Whitman is far smaller than the other piloting schools, it is not immune to instances of sexual violence such as those shown in the film.

Photo by Kaelie Rose.
Students immerse themselves in the film by wearing virtual reality headsets. Photo by Kaelie Rose.

“My first reaction [after watching] was ‘I can’t believe that happened,’ but in reality [sexual violence] absolutely occurs, and it’s tragic and it’s awful. While I think Whitman does a good job of showing awareness and trying to prevent sexual violence…it’s still a major issue on campus,” said Andreen.

The virtual reality headset used for the screenings make it so viewers see and hear the experiences as if they were actually the person whose perspective they are following. Participants first watch from the perspective of a male student as he approaches an intoxicated woman. The film shows his interactions with her leading up to and immediately following the sexual assault. It then returns to the beginning of the scene and shows the interactions again, this time from the woman’s perspective.

“Those two male characters, you want to do some physical harm to them… I reached out to grab one of them by that back of the hair and I was going to pull him off, and then I realized that was not really me,” said Associate Dean of Students Barbara Maxwell.

Paris cited the immersive nature of the Oculus Rift virtual reality technology used to show the film for being far more intense than traditional methods used in sexual violence education.

“You can’t escape it. You’re thrown right into the situation. It’s a heavy scenario for anybody to watch, not just people who may have been in that situation once. But I think it’s good because it elicits a really visceral reaction. You experience what’s going on to a certain extent. You take the helmet off and you’re just stunned for a little bit. That physical reaction to it is [something] really important [that’s] been missing from a lot of talks and discussions.”

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article stated IndieFlix owned  the rights to The Party, which is not correct. IndieFlix is helping bring The Party to college campuses.