Women experiencing domestic violence often have their access to communication channels restricted by their abusers. Abusers may also regularly control or monitor their communication with the outside world. Existing ways of reporting violence require survivors to have a conversation via telephone or messaging, both of which can be difficult to conceal and may put women at greater risk if their abuser finds out.
So, to help women stay safe, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, civil society organisation SOS Vojvodina from Serbia designed a safer mobile application for reporting violence and seeking help. The mobile application is disguised as a different type of app to prevent detection by abusers.
With a smartphone and Internet access, any person in Serbia can use this application to report ongoing or previous violence against herself or someone else. It is available in Serbian, English and Romani. It has been adapted for use by people with visual impairments and it is compatible with mobile reading/writing/voice programs for people with disabilities.
Users can report violence by pressing an SOS button, calling the support organisation nearest to them, or contacting the organisation or institution of their choice. These options allow women users to turn to whomever they want, perhaps to organisations they have been in contact with before or to organisations they find trustworthy. The application also has a live chat feature, which enables women to reach staff at the organisation closest to them, where they can get psychosocial support, counselling and referral to additional services.
“We created the application as a new communication channel for women, not as a substitute for the existing ways of reporting violence. Although a direct link with the institutions is not in place due to legislative limitations, one of its most important features is its connection with the Integrated Information System for recording reports of violence, which provides plenty of new data on reported cases and further supports women’s organisations advocacy efforts,” noted Biljana Stepanov, Board President of SOS Vojvodina Network.
Increased reporting through the application has also improved data collection, which enables women’s organisations to not only provide immediate support to women, but also to advocate for their cases and for actions aimed at eradicating violence against women and girls. When women report violence through the app, the time and place of the report, as well as other details provided by the survivor, are recorded in the Integrated Information System – software that stores case data.
This system enables faster and easier reporting as well as the review and comparison of data by given time periods. Such comparison is extremely important for advocacy because it provides a sense of changes in prevalence of different types of violence. This is the first-ever system of its kind in Serbia with the ability to connect multiple service-providers and produce large amounts of data. As such, it requires human resources and technical capacity. Although the system is not without its challenges, it provides organisations connected to the system with much more information about individual cases than before, enabling women’s organisations to build stronger cases and better advocate for their clients.
The number of women reporting to the organisations connected to the Integrated Information System is increasing, with more than 3000 women having viewed the application, more than 1100 downloads and over 700 active users. As more persons start using the app the number of services provided to them are increasing as well. However, many more women reach out for psychological counselling than to report acts of violence.
“For women to live in a violence-free society, the app is not enough – women need continued, consistent support and encouragement to report, and once reported, a stable system needs to be in place to further support them. Women’s organisations continue to be at the forefront of this battle and UN Women proudly supported SOS Vojvodina to develop this application,” said Natalija Ostojić, Programme Manager at UN Women Serbia.
This app was developed under the regional program “Ending violence against women in the Western Balkans and Turkey: Implementing Norms, Changing Minds,” funded by the European Union.