According to statistics released by the U.S. Department of Justice, during the 10-year period between 2003 and 2012, domestic violence accounted for 21 percent of all violent victimizations in the United States. According to the National Library of Medicine, domestic violence (which includes physical abuse, rape, sexual assault, and even robbery) affects approximately 10 million people every year, meaning that about one in four women, and one in nine men, are victims.
One might be slightly encouraged from another set of statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice that show that domestic violence decreased during the period between 1994 and 2012. However, sadly, domestic violence increased during the period between 2016 and 2018. And, of course, many government and nonprofit groups have reported domestic violence went through a dramatic uptick during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is likely because women and families are confined with their abusers under crisis conditions. The United Nations has even referred to the pandemic-related domestic violence increase as the “shadow pandemic.”
So, what are some new and innovative solutions to combat domestic violence?
- Facebook Makeup.One survivor of domestic violence used Facebook to clandestinely help abused women who might be in lockdown with their abusers. Knowing that abusers often monitored their victims’ electronic communications, she posted this in April 2020: “IF YOU ARE CURRENTLY STUCK IN ISOLATION WITH SOMEONE WHO IS ABUSIVE, shoot me a message asking if I’m still selling my makeup. If you message specifically about liquid eyeliner, I will ask for your address (for shipping, wink-smiley face) and contact law enforcement for you. You are not alone!” The post was shared 70,000 times.
- Pharmacy Codewords.At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, pharmacies were sometimes one of the only places women in lockdown or isolation could freely go to. And so in France, Spain, Germany, the United Kingdom, Argentina, and elsewhere adopted codeword policies. A woman who needed help could say a codeword (such as requesting help with “mask 19” or asking for someone named “Ani”) to pharmacy workers. The employee would then attempt to assist the women.
- Women-run Services.It’s understood that negative gender dynamics often leave female victims of domestic violence reluctant to report abuse to male law enforcement or medical personnel. In India, an innovative solution is police stations for women. It was found that reportage of domestic violence increased by nearly 22 percent at these police stations. During the 2020 surge in sexual assault in South Africa, activist Joanie Fredericks launched an all-women-operated taxi service.
- Smartphone Apps.Numerous smartphone apps and SMS-based services have emerged that not only provide support and help to domestic violence victims, they also increase awareness of the crisis. A few examples include Kitestring, Circle of 6, Watch Over Me, Safetipin, and Saahas. In Italy, the government modified an app called YouPol (which was originally used to help teen bullying victims) to enable domestic violence victims to discreetly request help without having to make phone calls or initiate other trackable forms of communication. Wearable technology, such as a bracelet that can send a 911 call, is also emerging.
- Provide Support for Abusers.In a twist that may at first glance seem misguided, a 2018 (pre-pandemic) article from The Conversation reports on a program that would provide accommodation, support services, and behavioral interventions for the perpetrators of domestic and family violence. This not only allows survivors to remain in their own homes (rather than being displaced to shelters), it also adopts the outlook that abusers do not want to be abusers and may be reformed with specialized care (as opposed to incarceration).