You really must see Jessie

Jesse is a 10-year-old boy set to pioneer new ways to tackle violence against women and children. Jesse isn’t just any 10-year-old boy. He’s from the Caribbean and lives with his mother and pet dog in the house owned by his mother’s boyfriend. Though the boyfriend is violent, they have no choice, Jesse’s mother is pregnant and as a consequence lost her job and is no longer able to afford the home she shared with her son.

Both Jesse and his mother are victims of the violence inflicted by the boyfriend; Jesse has never been hit but the effects of the abuse he witnesses affect his schooling, relationships, self-esteem and, unsurprisingly, he is becoming aggressive himself. Though Jesse’s story might be depressingly familiar, he is actually completely unique, for he is the main character in a prosocial computer game designed to teach children about domestic violence, tackling the negative gender attitudes that feed gender-based violence and building non-adversarial problem solving skills and empathy along the way.

The UN has said that attitudes and practices which perpetuate violence against women should be addressed through appropriate public information and educational programmes. Childhood and adolescence are critical periods for such interventions because young people’s attitudes are not fully formed and can be altered more easily than among adults.

At the heart of my work with the None in Three Research Centre lies the creation of educational anti-violence computer games which – underpinned by far-reaching public engagement strategies, strong civil society alliances and buttressed by robust empirical research – aim to re-write the future.

That one in three women and girls will experience sexual or physical violence in their lifetime (World Health Organisation, 2013) is the global statistic the None in Three Centre has set itself the task of re-writing.

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Having been a social worker, activist and academic in the field of violence against women and children for almost four decades, I am under no illusions about the scale of our work, nor do I believe that by himself Jesse, the first of a series of games to emerge from the Ni3 Centre, can generate the changes in attitudes that we need to see.

But, our evidence has shown definitively that prosocial video games are a valuable tool in addressing gender-based violence because they scaffold children’s experiences using narrative and audio-visual content, rules and objectives that can regulate attitudes and behaviour in specific ways.

Launched exactly two years ago, on International Women’s Day, the None in Three Centre piloted its model in Grenada and Barbados through funding from the EU’s Human Rights Programme. Developed and evaluated by our team of technicians and scientists at the University of Huddersfield, Jesse was designed in partnership with experts and children from these countries.

The storyline, environment and graphics are based on cultural realities and members of the general public play the voice actors for the characters in the game. A close partnership with schools, colleges, students, teachers and parents enabled us to carry out robust scientific trials with over 400 children and young people to test the effectiveness of the game.

The research is clear: when children play aggressive computer games their behaviour can become violent but when they play socially conscientious games, their behaviour correspondingly improves.

Trials of Jesse have shown that when children play the game as part of a class lesson, levels of awareness of the impact of domestic violence and empathy are increased.

These exciting findings are important because the inability to feel empathy (underpinned by gender socialisation and inequalities) is a common characteristic exhibited by those who perpetrate violence against women and children.”

Jesse is designed primarily for working with young people in education settings, however it is also valuable as a training tool for professionals. It comes with a user manual and is available for free download on PC & Android devices and also for web play at: http://noneinthree.hud.ac.uk/barbados-and-grenada/jesse/.

Now, a new grant from the RCUK Global Challenges Research Fund is enabling us to expand our work to China, where we will tackle attitudes relating to bullying and sexual harassment in schools; Jamaica – child sexual exploitation; India – negative gender bias; Uganda – child marriage and female genital mutilation and, the UK – intimate partner violence within adolescent relationships.

I am Adele Jones, Professor of Social Work at the University of Huddersfield, Director of the None in Three Centre and abuse survivor. This is the work that I do – it’s the only way to keep the distress I feel at the violence inflicted on women and children from eating me up. Forgive me if I talk about Jesse as if he is real – but you see for me the hope he represents truly is real.

As I said, you really must meet Jesse.

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Professor Adele Jones is Professor of Social Work at the University of Hudersfield and the leader of the None in Three project.

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