By Setha Rath
Is it okay if your boyfriend checks messages in your phone periodically? Or prevents you from talking to other men? These are signs of emotional abuse. The term Abusive relationship does not only refer to physical violence, but also emotional, economic, psychological and sexual abuse. Violence against women is a global issue. In New Zealand, 1 in 3 women experience an act of physical and/or sexual violence from a partner or ex-partner in their lifetime, according the statistics of New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse Organization in 2015. As the statistic suggests, women in both developed and developing countries are vulnerable to various types of violence and ranging in severity. However, all women need education and support to help them better understand their relationships and seek help from support services in their areas.
Now, in New Zealand, women can screen their relationship status through a mobile application which helps them to identify if their partner (boyfriend, husband or ex) is using abusive behaviours. This app called 1 in 3 Be Free – an app to screen relationship for abuse, initiated by Inner City Women Group, an organization that provides support and education to women affected by violence. This app has series of questions to determine what kind of situation a woman is in. It has a power control wheel’s user interface (as you can see in figure 1) which allows women to identify if any of the various types of violence are present in her relationship. The questions are based around examples of behaviors an abusive man might use. When users finish answering a series of questions the App provides them with the result and links them with support services in their area. What is more, women can learn about domestic violence through a variety of educational videos. More importantly, this app is highly secured with data encryption, security code and panic button to activate if necessary.
Figure 1. Power Control Wheel
In order to gain more understanding about the development process and lessons learnt of 1 In 3 Be Free App, an interview with Ms. Deborah Mackenzie, Agency Manager at Inner City Women Group was conducted. She mentioned that for most women in New Zealand it is hard to work out if they are in an abusive relationship or not because information about the dynamics of abuse are not easily available, especially if physical violence is not present. For this reason, this app can be used as a tool to raise women’s awareness of intimate partner violence, evaluate their relationships and connect them with support services earlier to increase their safety. “We wanted to use mobile technology because we can reach more women in a simple, fast and safe way”, Ms. Mackenzie added. A lot of young people nowadays can get access to smartphones and internet, so we should leverage mobile technology for social good and it is free.
It took about 18 months to 2 years to develop this mobile application through the hard work of a wonderful techy team at Omnispex – A creative digital agency specializing in website development, branding and digital media (as you can see in figure 2). The team did all the design and coding for Inner City Women Group. During the app development process, women’s safety and security was carefully considered and integrated into the app. For example, every user has a pin code in order to access the app, the information provided by the user is confidential and the visual icon is discreet. An extra level of encryption was also included, thus the user does not have to worry about an abusive partner being able to break into her phone and access the answers to her questions. Inner City Women’s Group wanted to ensure the app responded to user’s needs and concerns and so user testing was conducted with domestic violence survivors several times and their feedback was incorporated throughout the process. For instance, one survivor mentioned they wanted to have more information once they got to the results section of the app and so educational videos which were very generously given to Inner City Women’s Group by DAIP in Duluth Minnesota, to use were loaded into the app as a tool for women to explore more about intimate partner violence.
Figure 2. Omnispex Team
Inner City Women Group has worked with young techies and volunteers who are passionate about the issues as well as the survivors of domestic violence in the development of the App. Ms. Mackenzie stated that prior to the project, she had limited knowledge of mobile technology, thus she thought she would depend heavily on the app developers. Due to the Omnispex team’s patience and commitment she has a very positive experience and has been able to learn about some of the innovative ideas of app development. In return those app developers have gained more knowledge about domestic violence and are committed to making a difference for victims. During the app development, one of the critical lessons learnt for the team is the impact the size of the video files can have on the App. Ms. Mackenzie mentioned that the team was trying to shrink down the video’s size, so that the app could be static. However, this could not be easily done. In the end, all users need internet access to watch the videos. Using mobile technology is another way to help change the experience of abuse. Most victims of domestic violence have been isolated due to the abuse. Their abusive partners make it very difficult and sometimes dangerous for them to be connected with the outside world. Given that most women are able to have access to smartphones and internet, the 1 in 3 Be Free App is a wonderful tool to link them support services and help them understand they are not alone and the abuse is not their fault.
Setha Rath is a Program Officer at The Asia Foundation. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.