Clever digital technology solutions to help tackle increased domestic violence during lockdown

by Africa Montis-Ngomo, Design Enterprise Studio Member, March 2021

As technology is always evolving and growing there are many ways in which this can positively influence the design of solutions that can highly benefit some of the most negative aspect and weaknesses of our modern age. I am talking about issues such as the increase of domestic violence which has significantly got worse during recent pandemic-related lockdowns.

Violence towards women seems to have always been present in human history. Thankfully, the last few decades have seen many improvements, from equal rights movements to women across the world making their voices heard. However, even today there is a big percentage of women who are still unable to voice their opinions freely due to pressure of their culture, religion, or current domestic situation.

In the United Kingdom an estimated 7.5% of women experienced domestic violence in 2019. The exact figures during this pandemic are not yet known, but the United Nations estimate that there has been an alarming 20% increase on domestic violence, mostly against women.

Government restrictions imposed on the public and families meant that many couples were forced to stay indoors,  spending much longer amounts of time together than previously. In some cases, this created natural friction which did not lead anything more than verbal disputes, but in many other cases it led to daily mental and physical abuse. In such a close-up situation, the women concerned had less chance of asking for help without being found out by their abusive partner and had to weigh up the prospect that being found out could lead to an even worse outcome for them.

Organisation working for people living in fear of domestic abuse started to become more creative during lockdown and developed a number of new digital alternatives for individuals to reach out.

How have digital technologies been helping?

Technology was already taking up a big part of people lives, with a serious increase of device use during global and local lockdowns. For many, Internet access and digital devices became the only way to stay connected to the outside world. This created opportunities.

One interesting example is Rumianki i Bratki, a fake online cosmetic shop which was developed by Polish teenager Krystyna Paszko to help people experiencing domestic violence. Krystyna says that she was inspired by the action some pharmacies have been taking which allow victims to come in and ask to buy a special mask. This would let the pharmacists know that they are victims of violence at home and need help. In developing the online shop, Krystyna’s initial aim was to help people closer to her own community such as friends and friends of friends. However, her idea became popular and won her a European Union prize of €10,000 ((£8,700).

Facebook screenshot of Krystyna's shop

This idea follows on from similar ones, such as panic buttons or mobile trackers which can already be found in many devices and which can help victims to dispatch silent messages to the police and emergency services. Recently, a number of women have also appeared on social media networks who have given a hand by sharing posts with key details on how they can be contacted by any person in a situation of domestic violence.

Another worthwhile mobile/telephone friendly solution which has been around for more than 15 years is Silent Solution. This allows people who are in danger but not able to speak to press the number “55”  to report any incident. This will direct the individual to an operator who will be aware that their chances of speaking are limited and could endanger their life.

In summary...

As digital technologies evolve, I believe there will be more and more effective ways to tackle domestic violence and protect people from their abusers. As more awareness is brought to the public eye the faster these solutions will arise.  

Maybe one day AI companions will be able to alert the authorities if certain body  movements, temperature, or heart rate changes are monitored which leads the AI to conclude that their human companions are being victims of violence.

References

Ons.gov.uk. 2021. Domestic abuse victim characteristics, England and Wales – Office for National Statistics. [online] Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/articles/ domesticabusevictimcharacteristicsenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2019 
[Accessed 20 March 2021].

BBC News. 2021. Why this teen set up a prize-winning fake cosmetics shop. [online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-56172456 [Accessed 20 March 2021].

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