NI filmmaker launches VR film to shine light on mental abuse in relationships

  • Northern Ireland filmmaker, Lucy Baxter has launched a virtual reality (VR) film to raise awareness of the impact of mental abuse and coercive control on victims in relationships.

    Lucy is the director of domestic abuse charity, Mental Abuse Matters and a Film Practice lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast. She is currently using Mental Abuse Matters as her PhD subject.

    The VR film depicts a woman who is being mentally abused by her partner, showing the traumatic impact it has on her through an immersive film experience, best viewed via a VR headset. 

    It will be used for training those who come into contact with abuse victims, such as those working in health and social care and the criminal justice systems, to help enable greater understanding of the victim’s experience.

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    Lucy Baxter said: “Mental abuse and coercive control are lesser known but very real forms of domestic abuse. The abuse can gradually wear down a person’s sense of independence and they may become accustomed to an atmosphere of dread and trepidation, always living in fear that they might unintentionally aggravate an abusive partner. It happens to people of all genders and backgrounds.

    “The difficulty with mental abuse is that no one outside the relationship can see the damage that it is causing, because there are no physical signs like bruises or broken bones. The trauma for victims however is very real and terrifying.

    “My aim is to encourage greater understanding and empathy for victims of mental abuse. Using Virtual Reality software, we can create an experience for the user that will allow them to place themselves in the shoes of the victim and get a sense of what they are feeling. This will give those who support abuse victims, first-hand knowledge of what it feels like to be in their position.”

    Maire McGrath, Mental Abuse Matters, Professor Paul Moore, Future Screens NI, and Lucy Baxter, Mental Abuse Matters and film creator.

    The project was funded by Future Screens NI and is now being developed into a wider business idea through a Tech Start-funded customer discovery process with Qubis, the commercialisation arm of Queen’s University.

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    Professor Paul Moore from Future Screens NI added that "Future Screens NI is thrilled to be able to fund innovative projects like the Mental Abuse Matters Virtual Reality film because it shows how film-making can be used in the most innovative ways to educate people about the impact of issues that are challenging to articulate beyond direct experience."

    “The ‘walking on eggshells’ analogy is said all too often, but this immersive film by Lucy allows us that first-hand experience of what that feels like to be a victim," he continued.

    "We hope that by funding this important project, it becomes an important training tool in educating professionals about the very real and long-lasting damage that mental abuse causes.”

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