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Amy Brown headshot

Tech Companies Step Up to Help Domestic Violence Victims

By Amy Brown
Domestic Violence

A sharp rise in the rate of domestic violence is one of the more disturbing consequences of the novel coronavirus pandemic and stay-at-home orders. Several tech companies are offering innovative ways to help domestic violence victims reach out for help even as they are shut inside their homes with their abusers.

In the U.S., Google searches for the National Domestic Violence Hotline increased by 140 percent in the last 30 days, while global searches for “national domestic abuse hotline” shot up 250 percent. We can see this is hardly only an American phenomenon: The United Nations has reported increases in cases of domestic violence and calls to helplines around the world.

Domestic violence incidents can be particularly dangerous during a lockdown when victims are unable to reach out to authorities or a helpline while in close quarters with their abusers. In Los Angeles, police are concerned that at home, victims can feel trapped by security cameras that allow abusers to check their use of phones and websites and dissuade them from alerting police.

A home surveillance company offers a lifeline

But while some aspects of technology such as home surveillance cameras can make people feel more vulnerable, technology can also provide a way for victims to get help. A number of tech companies are offering victims a lifeline during this time.

Home security company ADT is releasing its SoSecure mobile safety app for free, providing a possible lifeline for people suffering domestic violence. The app includes several features designed to be particularly helpful to people facing domestic abuse. For instance, they can silently SMS chat with ADT’s 24/7 professional monitors. They can also discreetly trigger an emergency alarm, which allows ADT to pinpoint the user’s GPS coordinates (911 dispatchers can’t always do that). App users can also designate friends or family to receive alerts when an alarm is triggered. And SoSecure also allows a time period to be preset, after which emergency contacts will be notified if the user is unresponsive.

Across sectors, tech companies strive for smartphones to become a tool for freedom

At Cornell University, Cornell Tech’s Clinic to End Tech Abuse (CETA) has created a remote program to help survivors of intimate partner violence use their devices without fear of monitoring or stalking. CETA partners with the New York City Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence (ENDGBV) and the city’s Family Justice Centers to provide the clinic’s services to survivors. This collaboration has continued during the pandemic, with case workers able to refer their clients to these city agencies to set up consultations with the clinic about possible tech-enabled abuse.

For those who have the ability to leave their homes to seek assistance, Uber is partnering with organizations supporting victims of sexual, domestic, and gender-based violence to provide 50,000 free rides and additional support to shelters and safe spaces in more than 35 cities across 17 countries. The company says it wants to help abuse victims to get to a safe space during coronavirus lockdowns.

"A lack of transportation is a huge barrier for survivors of domestic violence every day of the week. And that's really exacerbated by COVID-19," Allison Randall, vice president for policy and emerging issues at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, told The Hill.

Access to pro-bono legal help is also more readily available to domestic violence victims, thanks to the justice tech company Paladin, which has teamed up with the American Bar Association to create a new portal that helps lawyers find pro-bono opportunities specifically to help people affected by the coronavirus pandemic and other natural disasters. As Paladin co-founder Kristen Sonday told TechCrunch, vulnerable individuals are experiencing a range of legal issues at unprecedented levels due to COVID-19, including victims of domestic violence who have sheltered-in-place with an abuser.

Get help with domestic violence

While technology can be a huge asset at a time of crisis, public awareness of the right resources for help is paramount. In response to hearing increased reports from survivors that COVID-19 is being used by abusive partners to further control and abuse, the National Domestic Violence Hotline and The No More Foundation have significantly expanded their recently launched public awareness and action campaign. Entitled #ListeningFromHome, the campaign aims to heighten people's awareness of domestic violence, and encourage them to safely get help if they experience, hear or observe incidents of domestic abuse.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline has posted a “Staying Safe During Covid-19” guide for survivors and their families. Trained counselors are also available by phone 24 hours a day at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) and by chat at www.thehotline.org.

Image credit: Luisella Planeta Leoni/Pixabay

Amy Brown headshot

Based in Florida, Amy has covered sustainability for over 25 years, including for TriplePundit, Reuters Sustainable Business and Ethical Corporation Magazine. She also writes sustainability reports and thought leadership for companies. She is the ghostwriter for Sustainability Leadership: A Swedish Approach to Transforming Your Company, Industry and the World. Connect with Amy on LinkedIn and her Substack newsletter focused on gray divorce, caregiving and other cultural topics.

Read more stories by Amy Brown