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How Mobile Phones Are Fighting Domestic Violence

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'There can be no peace, no progress, when women live under the fear of violence,' declared UN Women Secretary General Michelle Bachelet in a recent speech about violence to women.

Globally, one woman in every three will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. That's one billion women. This depressing statistic is more than double this in some countries, where, says Bachelet, seven in 10 women are 'beaten, raped, abused, or mutilated'.

Well over 100 countries outlaw violence against women and more countries have introduced legislation intended to end violence against women and girls. This is paving the way for a greater focus on awareness campaigns and providing comprehensive services to survivors, with technology-based solutions increasingly playing a role.

In the UK - where, unbeknown to many, two women die every week as a result of domestic violence - high smartphone and tablet penetration has enabled digital media to be used effectively in raising awareness. The charity Refuge recently launched a powerful, albeit disturbing, digital campaign aimed at encouraging more women to speak out. It featured YouTube's self-taught make-up artist and beauty blogger Lauren Luke. Titled 'How to Look Your Best the Morning After', the video, which shows Luke concealing cuts and bruises with make-up, has had a staggering 1.2 million views on YouTube. Unlike traditional television, the portability of mobile enables women to view a digital campaign such as this one privately and at a convenient time and location.

It was the portability of mobile, as well as its connectivity, that made us realise mobile technology could be used as a tool to prevent domestic violence - or, perhaps, to alert police when it is happening. So, in collaboration with the Spanish Red Cross, the Vodafone Spain Foundation developed TecSOS. Now across five European countries, TecSOS is our specially-adapted mobile phone which provides support for victims of domestic violence. A user pushes a central button which activates immediate contact with the emergency services, providing instant details of location and recording all activity in the immediate vicinity. TecSOS handsets have been used by more than 22,000 women.

In the UK alone, these phones are being used by 20 police forces with 2,384 victims benefiting from the increased security. Since its introduction in the UK, the TecSOS service has been activated 194 times by victims in extreme domestic situations. Last Christmas and New Year alone, there were 27 activations of the TecSOS handset with three activations to the Metropolitan police, including one case which led to a perpetrator being caught by the police and prosecuted.

The handset has been adapted so that victims can contact police quickly and easily using a speed dial button. The activation is immediately identified as being from a TecSOS handset and the incoming call displays the victim's history. The police are able to identify the caller's approximate location. The call is recorded and this can be used as evidence in a subsequent investigation. In some cases, this evidence is sufficient for the perpetrator to be prosecuted without the victim having to testify in court.

The technology is simple, using the most basic of mobile handsets, but it is potentially life-saving. Domestic violence is not necessarily something that happens within the confines of the home. TecSOS gives victims the freedom to leave their homes. As a senior police officer tells us: "Victims have workplaces, school runs and places to go, so having a mobile device is tremendously important." Fixed line solutions do offer protection, but they have made women prisoners in their own home.TecSOS provides unprecedented cover outside of the home, empowering women to take control of their movements, a critical step in rebuilding their lives.

The potential for mobile technology in helping combat domestic violence is significant. It is still early days, we know a mobile phone will never give victims total security and we are aware this is by no means the only answer to ending domestic violence. However, growth has been rapid in a short period, the results and feedback overwhelmingly positive and we are expanding the service to new countries every year, with further country launches round the corner.

Andrew Dunnett will be discussing TecSOS at a side event at the UN's 57th Commission on the Status of Women in New York on 5 March, 2013.