by Calandra McGoogan
Figures from the World Health Organization estimate that a staggering one in three women worldwide has experienced some form of domestic violence at some point in their lives, with less than 40% of these survivors ever seeking help of any sort*.
And it’s not just a problem for women - in the UK alone, as many as one in six men suffers from domestic abuse in their lifetime**.
Technology and connectivity are essential tools in an effort to support survivors of domestic violence and abuse, helping reduce levels of fear and even saving lives. From mobile apps to covert panic alarms, technology can protect survivors while also providing information and support - not only to those affected, but also to friends and family who want to help.
Research from Hestia, a leading domestic abuse charity based in London, reveals that one third of people say they don’t know how to help a loved one experiencing domestic abuse.
When coupled with the low numbers of survivors seeking help, it’s clear that support and information are vital.
The BrightSky app - launched by the Vodafone Foundation in collaboration with Hestia earlier this year - features a short questionnaire that helps users identify different forms of abuse and provides a UK-wide directory of specialist support services.
One woman who experienced domestic violence explains the need for services of this kind: “From my experience there wasn’t very much information out there. I’m hoping that the app will help people to start speaking about domestic violence more and get the help that they need through the information that’s on the app.”
BrightSky offers users advice to consider when leaving an abusive relationship, as well as providing information to friends and family to equip them with the tools to step in and support those affected.
The app also enables users to record incidents of abuse through audio, text, photo or video without the content being saved on their devices by sending it to a secure, remote inbox.
Innovations for the most vulnerable
In Spain, a survey conducted by the Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality shows that women with disabilities are at higher risk of being victims of violence. The PorMi app, developed by the Vodafone Foundation Spain and the Fundación CERMI Mujeres, aims to help address this.
PorMi gives access to telephone numbers, legal advice and information that may be useful to identify situations of abuse. This includes testimonies from women with disabilities who have been immersed in situations of violence and abuse, as well as information about the rights that can assist those affected.
It can also be used by anyone who, without being a victim of violence, knows of a case and wants to report the abuse.
Emergency response technology
Another powerful tool being used to support people at the highest risk of domestic violence is a specially-adapted device called TecSOS, which gives people direct and fast access to the police in an emergency.
When the device is activated, the police are alerted in seconds and provided with the location of the person at risk, allowing them to respond quickly and directly. Every TecSOS device is registered to the individual, meaning that their personal details, situation with their partner and history are on record for the police to access in an emergency.
In the past, programmes used by the police gave survivors a fixed panic button in their homes, but this could make the victim feel like a prisoner in their own house. TecSOS, however, is mobile - and small enough that it can be carried in a pocket or bag to provide survivors with a lifeline to safety and protection in their daily lives.
For some users, this has proved to be life-saving. An independent evaluation of TecSOS credited the system with saving at least seven lives over an eight-month period in one police force alone.
TecSOS was initially developed by the Vodafone Spain Foundation in collaboration with the Spanish Red Cross and the TecSOS Foundation, and is currently providing vital protection to those affected by domestic violence in five countries: Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Germany and the UK where it is issued by the Police. To date, over 100,000 people affected by domestic abuse have been helped by TecSOS.
TecSOS, BrightSky and PorMi are just a few of the wider initiatives run by the Vodafone Foundation, which have benefited almost 1 million people affected by domestic violence and abuse around the world.
* World Health Organization, “Global and regional estimates of violence against women”, 2013, http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/violence/9789241564625/en/
** ONS, Domestic abuse, sexual assault and stalking; year ending March 2016 Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) self-completion module on intimate violence, asked of adults aged 16 to 59; release date 9 February 2017.
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