Culture

How One Website Is Changing the Way Women Fight Domestic Violence

by Rosie Spinks

June 24, 2015
UK-based gender and technology project Chayn helps empower women via social media. 

Imagine the following scenario: you are a woman who lives in the developing world, and your husband regularly abuses you. You live in a society that does not allow women to work once they are married, therefore you are largely under the financial and domestic control of your partner, and rarely able to leave the house. You tell your mother about the abuse, but she insists carrying out your duty as a wife is globally important. What do you do?

While hard to fathom, that scenario is unfortunately not as rare as it might sound. UN Women estimates that 35 percent of the world’s women have been victims of either physical or sexual violence. In countries where there is available data, intimate partners are the most common perpetrators of such violence.

The U.K.-based gender and technology project Chayn set out to create a resource for those women by consulting abuse survivors, law students and lawyers in the US, UK, Pakistan and India. What they’ve created is the first-ever online, step-by-step guide for creating your own domestic violence case without a lawyer—a resource now available to any woman with an internet connection.

The guide is also able to be downloaded on smartphones.

Chayn’s founder Hera Hussain says that the guide—which is aimed at women who are seeking legal action against an abuser, trying to get a divorce, in a custody battle, or seeking asylum—is unique because of the way women can access it. Chayn has published the guide online under a creative commons license, with the hope that local NGOs can distribute it on their own websites, thereby allowing it to reach a more diverse range of victims around the world. 

“The value of it being online is huge because in developing parts of the world, so many women are afraid to reach out and contact an actual organization for help,” Hussain said. “And in countries like the U.K., where we’re seeing 30 percent legal aid cuts, you’ve got a large percentage of women who are not eligible for legal aid because they don’t have the required evidence.”

The idea behind the guide is that if a woman has built a convincing case before approaching a legal professional, it will require less time and resources for a lawyer or NGO to help her down the line or take on her case pro-bono. With that in mind, the guide’s most extensive section focuses on what evidence to gather and how to go about obtaining it safely. From keeping a written record of instances of abuse to getting character witness statements from peers or NGO workers, the advice is aimed to be useful to any woman, no matter how oppressive her situation. Befitting its online nature, the guide also offers a range of tech-related advice, such as explaining how to use Dropbox or Google Drive to discretely save files, disable the “recent files” function on a shared computer, or start a confidential online journal on a service like Penzu. The guide is also available to download with a decoy cover, so that an abuser will not be privy to the nature of the material.

One of Chayn’s former projects focused on human slavery.

Hussain says one of the biggest challenges for the project is tracking how it’s being used and by whom, as the most vulnerable users are unlikely to broadcast that they found the guide useful. However, Chayn invites feedback on the document, anonymous or otherwise, via a Facebook wall and other online means.

In the section about keeping a written record and timeline of abuse, the guide states that “the more exact you are in your details, the more persuasive your account becomes … every time you can’t remember or someone asks you about a specific incident and where it happened, you just need to show them the timeline.” That so much of the document is focused on pre-empting those who might doubt the validity of a woman’s story is telling, says Hussain.

“Irrespective of who I meet or where I am, the first question I get asked about this project is ‘how do you know the women are not lying?’” Hussain said. “This is really telling of how pervasive misogyny is in our society. The answer to that question, of course, is that it’s better to trust somebody and then give them the opportunity to break that trust, then to not trust somebody and miss out on an opportunity to help someone who really needs your help.”

 

Illustration by Jean Wei

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How One Website Is Changing the Way Women Fight Domestic Violence