The US Air Force is using virtual reality (VR) training sessions with personnel, in an attempt to tackle sexual assault and suicide rates among its ranks.

Over 1,000 Air Force personnel have taken part in the training sessions so far, with at least 10,000 airmen set to have taken part by the end of 2021, reports the New York Times.

Some of the sessions involve taking part in VR sessions replicating social situations, such as interactions in a bar. Those taking part have conversations with virtual actors, whose expressions and reactions change depending on how the interactions pan out.

A VR scenario based around sexual harassment is set to be introduced to the program later this year. In it, VR users will watch a simulated scene of sexual harassment unfold in a virtual bar.

According to the US Department of Defense, in 2019 there were 7,825 reports of sexual assault involving service members in the US military, either as victims or subjects of criminal investigations related to them. 6,236 of these reports were made by service members.

Some of the VR sessions that have taken place so far have focused on suicide prevention. Airmen learn about asking questions to someone who may be suicidal, such as those about whether they have a gun in their house.

Carmen Schott, sexual assault prevention and response program manager for the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command says that “Virtual reality training puts the user in a scenario, not in a classroom where you are zoning out and on your cellphone.”

“You are an active participant. You have to be ready. I think that it is going to help airmen retain and remember knowledge. We don’t want people to feel judged. They may not make perfect decisions, but they will learn skills,” she added.

Air Force officials said that 97 percent of participants of the VR sessions said they would recommend the training.

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