It is holiday time; a time when families relax, reflect on the past year, and enjoy each other’s company. Did you know that one thing that doesn’t take a holiday, is domestic abuse? Some studies suggest that intimate partner violence actually increases during the holiday season.
Reasons for this include financial pressures associated with Christmas and holiday spending, increased alcohol and substance abuse, and tension between family members who don’t get along.
Domestic violence victims are not alone this festive season
It will be the holidays soon; a time when families relax, reflect on the past year, and enjoy each other’s company. But one thing that doesn’t take a holiday, is domestic abuse. Some studies suggest that intimate partner violence actually increases during the holiday season. Reasons for this include financial pressures associated with Christmas and holiday spending, increased alcohol and substance abuse, and tension between family members who don’t get along.
“Abuse is already an isolating experience because victims often feel like it’s their fault. As a result, they don’t tell friends or family about the abuse, nor do they report it to the police. And when they do, they often drop the charges because they’re scared of the consequences at home,” says Kriti Sharma, leading global voice on ethical technology and founder of AI for Good. “During the holidays, victims feel even more isolated, especially if they’re hiding the abuse and putting on a brave face because they don’t want to ruin the holiday.”
Help for the helpless
AI for Good recently partnered with Sage Foundation and Soul City Institute for Social Justice to launch rAInbow, an artificial intelligence (AI) powered smart companion that offers support to victims of domestic violence, as well as their friends and family. It’s a world-first initiative and South Africans will be the first to benefit.
rAInbow was developed following research and focus groups conducted by Soul City, in which it interviewed victims of domestic violence to understand how they seek and access help. It can be accessed 24/7 via Facebook Messenger and provides a safe space for domestic violence victims to access information about their rights and support options – in friendly, simple language.
“rAInbow doesn’t intend to be human or to replace the human touch. Our hope is that, in talking to rAInbow, victims will have taken the first step in getting help, whether that’s in understanding the law or accessing emotional support,” says Sharma. “The blend of conversational language with a familiar technology like Facebook makes speaking to rAInbow as informal and relaxed as speaking to a friend.”
Abuse by the numbers
South Africa’s domestic violence statistics are alarming and uncomfortable to hear.
The country’s femicide rate is over five times higher than the global average. According to the South African Police Service, a woman is murdered every four hours in the country. In over half of these cases, the victims were killed by their intimate partners.
And, according to the Understanding Gender Policy and Gender-Based Violence in South Africa research report, commissioned by Soul City, nearly half of all women in South Africa will experience sexual violence in their lifetime. This compares to a global average of 35%. This figure could be much higher, since only one in between nine and 25 cases of rape are reported.
Abuse by any other name
The Soul City-commissioned research report found that, because people spend more time at home during the holidays, more opportunities for domestic situations arise.
South Africa’s Domestic Violence Act defines gender-based violence as “any harm that is perpetrated against a person’s will that has a negative impact on their physical or psychological health, development, and identity”. It defines domestic violence as any physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, psychological, and economic abuse. Abuse is so broad that, sometimes, victims don’t recognise it as abuse.
Reasons for underreporting abuse, according to the Soul City report, include a lack of faith in the criminal justice system and secondary trauma sometimes suffered by survivors at the hands of the police and health services. The sensitive and stigmatised nature of sexual crimes and the privatisation of domestic violence as a family matter also contribute to underreporting. Further, low conviction rates contribute to a culture of impunity for the perpetrators of violence and this often deters many survivors from reporting.
Not alone this Christmas
With rAInbow, organisers hope that more victims will seek help and find the courage to report their abuse. “We want to bring abuse out of the shadows and give victims a safe space to talk, ask questions, get help, and hear stories about others who are going through the same thing. They’re not alone, and there are people out there who want to help,” says Sharma.
“We need to start using technology to address the hardest challenges facing the world, rather than creating another food delivery app. With rAInbow, we can reach more victims and make a real impact by democratising access to help, support, and information. If anyone is feeling vulnerable or threatened this holiday season, I encourage them to speak to rAInbow. They don’t need to share their personal information and anything they do share will be treated as anonymous and strictly confidential.”
To start talking with rAInbow about domestic violence, search for ‘Hi rAInbow’ in the Facebook Messenger app. Or visit www.hirainbow.org and click ‘Start talking’.
To find out how you can get involved with the rAInbow project, email firstname.lastname@example.org.