Global estimates published by World Health Organization (WHO) indicate that about 1 in 3 women worldwide (35%) have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. Some national studies have reported rates of 70% or more. Although incidence of domestic violence varies from place to place, underreporting is a common concern across the globe. Difficulty in tracking instances of violence and accessing safe means to report are problems faced by far too many victims of domestic violence. To encourage reporting and ensure prosecution of abusers, app developers have taken on the charge to connect victims with the resources they need through easy-to-use channels. Mobile phone technology has served as a new frontier in tackling the worldwide epidemic of domestic violence. Three pioneering apps worth keeping on your radar are VictimsVoice (USA), GjejZâ (“Find your Voice,” Albania), and EasyRescue (Turkey).
Although legal mechanisms exist in the United States to report and prosecute domestic violence, few victims feel safe reporting and even fewer are able to find justice through court systems. Launched in June of 2019, VictimsVoice not only allows victims of domestic violence to report instances of abuse through secure channels, the app also collects specific documentation in case the user wants to pursue legal action against their abuser. Its developers recognized that far too many cases of domestic violence never go to trial because of a lack of ‘sufficient’ evidence. Users can upload photos of injuries, exam details from physicians, and respond to a series of questions to ensure swift prosecution when applicable. The app’s developers have partnered with District Attorney’s offices, law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and law firms across the country to pursue justice for victims of domestic violence.
Data collected through the app is stored off-device and encrypted, ensuring that abusers are unable to access any information inputted by the user. All uploaded content is permanently stored regardless of whether or not the user updates their license so that victims are able to report whenever they feel ready—even years later. VictimsVoice can be accessed from any device (ensuring easy access and security) and is available for an annual cost of $39.99. The app also offers gift cards to help loved ones escape abuse, and partner programs assist by subsidizing costs for those who can’t afford the price of the app’s license.
VictimsVoice hopes to serve as a model for app-based tactics in responding to the epidemic of domestic violence worldwide. The developers anticipate going global one day, but recognize the importance of focusing their efforts on ensuring the best possible service for their users on the local level. Version updates developed with strategic input from Native consultants are forthcoming, focusing on jurisdictional specifics within sovereign nations and tribal court proceedings. The app’s Founder and CEO Sheri Kurdakul recognizes the future possibilities created through the development of VictimsVoice. This technology is poised and built to be used beyond the scope of domestic violence.
GjejZâ (Find your Voice)
Clear across the globe, three entrepreneurial teens in Albania have developed an app to assist victims of domestic violence in accessing much needed support and resources. A 2018 survey found that one in two women suffered abuse at the hands of a partner in the last year, and 97 percent of these cases were never reported to the police. GjejZâ (Find your Voice) was created in response to these survey results. The three teens who developed the app were winners of the Technovation Challenge, which asked girls to code solutions to local problems. The app pinpoints three crucial steps for victims of domestic violence: identifying the problem, empowering the user, and enabling them to take action. Users first answer a series of questions to identify abuse. These questions are followed by testimonies of women who have escaped similar situations, meant to instill hope in victims of domestic violence. The stories include resources to enable victims to quickly and easily take action, including contact information to obtain benefits, restraining orders, shelter, and employment. Feeling hopeful about life after abuse can be especially difficult, and GjejZâ has done its part to address the myriad of challenges victims face. This service will likely go a long way in Albania, where 4.63 million people regularly use mobile phones.
Approximately 4 out of every 10 women in Turkey have been subjected to physical violence by their husbands or intimate partners, and 89% of the women experiencing the violence never told authorities or pressed charges. Public dialogue about this issue is contentious. As a result, disseminating educational materials is difficult, and most survivors are unable to learn about available resources to escape domestic violence. Mobile technology in Turkey has changed the landscape in providing assistance to victims. In 2015, the Turkish mobile phone company Vodafone took up their own challenge of “using mobiles for good” by creating the Easy Rescue app, designed to provide a quick and easy way for women experiencing domestic violence to alert authorities. Once a user downloads the app, it appears on mobile phones under a different name as not to arouse suspicion by abusers who may access the user’s phone. Users of the app can discreetly report incidents to authorities by shaking their phones, which alerts three pre-selected individuals or social service organizations; these contacts (friends, family, law-enforcement, domestic violence hotlines, or even an ambulance) are sent a message from the phone, including the user’s geographic location. Vodaphone was savvy in the methods they utilized to advertise this service. Print ads were put in places where potential abusers were not likely to see it: hidden on lingerie tags, wax strips, in women’s bathrooms, on popular daytime TV shows that targeted women, and deep within female bloggers’ online videos. Female Vodaphone customers were notified of its release via automated voice message—programed to recognize when a man answered the phone, at which point a generic promotional offer would be played. Since its launch, the app has supported over 300,000 women in Turkey (24% of female smartphone users) to reduce the cycle of domestic violence. SmartRescue’s designers anticipated that the app would remain underground for only a short time, ultimately creating a safety hazard for women. Ten months after launch, designers began ‘phase two’ of of the app, creating a new interface to once again avoid detection. Vodafone used many of their original advertising strategies to alert women to the change in interface.
Because the primary goal of these apps is the safety and protection of the person experiencing domestic violence, it is vital that developers ensure they function the way they are intended. When the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) critically examined a number of domestic violence apps with the App Safety Centre, they found that some didn’t effectively send alerts or contact emergency services as advertised. They also highlighted potential privacy issues and the danger of relying on GPS (turning off GPS is generally recommended to avoid phone monitoring). Ultimately, outreach programs and services can transform from protective tools into security threats when an abuser discovers their use. It is vital that technology programs look to Easy Rescue, VictimsVoice, and GjejZâ (Find your Voice) as leaders in the innovative fight against domestic violence.
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month in the U.S. You can do your part to support victims by donating a VictimsVoice gift card to a partner organization.
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