Conversations with survivors of exploitation and abuse can be challenging, and while traditional options to practice those conversations are available, they are often not scalable or emotionally engaging. Using cutting edge technology like Virtual Reality (VR) as a form of training has the potential to transform safeguarding-related behavior among aid workers and volunteers.

“Safeguarding Virtual Reality (VR)” has been developed by the Humanitarian Leadership Academy, in collaboration with BODYSWAPS, and leading subject matter experts from the sector. The experience had its soft launch last week with a number of  humanitarian organisations working in safeguarding and learning & development.

Participants testing the immersive experience using Oculus Quest headsets.

“Safeguarding VR”  uses innovative VR and artificial intelligence (AI) technology to create an interactive and realistic scenario in which the learner is immersed and has the opportunity to practice real-world skills using their voice and body-language. We worked with safeguarding subject matter experts to identify the behavioral traits preventing reporting and devised an experience to practice overcoming those in a safe environment and building self-confidence.

The learner is tasked with providing an intervention to the survivor of a safeguarding incident, the experience allows the learner to use his or her own voice and body language to practice having a conversation with the survivor following the disclosure of said incident.

The system then uses a virtual “body swap ”with the survivor and the learner relives the intervention from the survivor’s perspective , this gives the learner the opportunity  to self-reflect on what they said and how they said it. This is followed by a semantic analysis of the words chosen by the learner during the conversation with the survivor, the system provides a personalized feedback, on the behaviour, word choice and body language to improve their soft-skills over time.


The experience builds on existing research to leverage embodied VR scenarios as a way to elicit empathy and self-awareness in order to affect real-life behaviour. This new approach to learning provides an impactful and cost-efficient answer to the challenge of delivering behavioral change at scale. The experience will be available on smartphones as well as on VR headsets.

The VR experience comes as an alternative for learners to practice their soft-skills in a safe environment and it’s a practical complement to a self-guided e-learning course which covers the essentials of safeguarding.

Early results from user tests are promising with learners, and a unanimous opinion amongst users is that the experience helps to a better understanding of safeguarding incidents. Users finished the experience with the feeling that it has “great potential to build empathy and communication skills”.

Users agree that safeguarding training is essential, but poses a challenge as it is an emotionally charged topic.

“I hope that it will increase empathy and emotional intelligence amongst peers. It can be difficult to really know what to do and say when these situations come up regardless of the training”, one user said.

Different international organisations, such as UNHCR, the Norwegian Refugee Council and ITCILO will start limited pilots in December this year. Other organisations can start to pilot from Q1 2020, with broader rollout starting in Q2 2020. Contact us if you are interested in rolling this out at your organisation.

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