Domestic and sexual violence continue to be pervasive and devastating issues that affect individuals and communities worldwide. While there is no single solution to these complex issues, advancements in technology have opened up new opportunities for prevention and intervention.
However, while technology can be a powerful tool in preventing gender-based violence, it is important to acknowledge that it can also be used to perpetuate it. The same platforms that offer support and resources to survivors can also be used to harass and stalk individuals. With quickly evolving advancements in technology, there are rising incidents of violence occurring in the online space – with 50% of women experiencing online harassment compared to 36% of men, and 14% of women experiencing image based abuse compared to 5% of men1. Women and girls are more likely to be targets of multiple forms of online violence, such as physical threats, sexual harassment, financial abuse, stalking, and exploitation2. It is crucial to examine the ways in which technology can both help and harm those experiencing gender-based violence.
This blog explores some of the promising technologies – from mobile applications, to wearable technology and online support groups – that could transform how we approach gender-based violence prevention:
- Mobile applications and websites
In the past few years, many developers, often female, have created apps and websites specifically designed to rate the safety of commercial businesses enterprises, such as shops and restaurants in real time. For example, there are platforms that rate the safety of streets or entire neighborhoods live (Apps: Safetipin, Watch Over Me. Websites: HarassMap, Right to Be). The safety level is determined by the amount of reports of sexual harassment and abuse that are submitted via the app or website. This allows for a fairly live and accurate safety rating that was properly crowdsourced from fellow female identifying individuals.
Technology can also provide educational opportunities surrounding domestic and sexual violence. Part of the perpetuation of domestic and sexual violence is the silence and stigma surrounding such sensitive issues. Society often blames and shames victims which discourages them from seeking help or sharing their story. Now, simulations are being developed that would help spread survivors stories and break the silence to ignite crucial conversations. The simulations that are being developed range from personalized experiences to educational advice on how to aid a friend who has an abusive partner (Hannah). The simulation of sharing a survivor’s experience would display how difficult it can be to identify abuse, seek help, and ultimately leave. Companies now have the opportunity to use these simulations to provide training for their appropriate staff members in the event that one of their employees seeks support (ROSA).
- AI-powered chatbots
Other educational tools can help people identify coercive, manipulative, and/or abusive behaviors and then, if they are ready, equip them with local resources and national helplines to contact. AI powered chatbots have been on the rise recently, and some even offer a feature that can securely store digital evidence of abuse (Swansea Council Domestic Abuse Hub, rAInbow, Sophia). AI chatbots can provide 24-hours access and can also serve many people at the same time. However, a downside of AI chatbots is that they have limited capabilities and cannot deliver personalized responses. There have also been some security risks raised regarding the amount and nature of the information shared. As is often recognized, prevention is better than a cure, but educational technology can provide both preventative tools and resources for survivors.
- Wearable technology
Technology can be helpful in combating violence itself. For example, wearable technology can be an excellent deterrent against physical and verbal abuse (Safelet, OwnFone: Footprint). Safelet is a bracelet that can send a location to “Guardians” – family and friends, at the press of a button. Panic buttons have been created, where an individual who feels threatened can simply press a button and a ping will be sent to the police with the individual’s location. If an attacker knows someone is wearing a panic button, it could potentially be used to deter future actions.
- Surveillance technology
The ethics of surveillance technology have also been called into question. For example, what would happen if AI was used to monitor conversations between someone who is being threatened and the perpetrator? AI could monitor conversations, recognize and identify signs that it could escalate to violence and interfere before it’s too late. Interference could include providing resources (hotlines, de-escalation techniques) or having a panic button pop up that would have the police pre-dialled. Alternatively, after monitoring conversations where AI finds patterns of manipulation, it could offer to securely store the conversation as potential evidence. Smart home surveillance products might be able to shift “the burden in terms of identifying and reporting certain patterns of abuse to corporations”4. However, smart home devices do not come without risk. Most smart home systems have one person who has master access and whose control overrides all device settings. This allows abusers to manipulate or coerce without even needing to be physically present5.
- Online Support Groups
Experiencing abuse can feel extremely isolating, which is why it is incredibly important to find support and understand that you’re not alone. The internet has made connecting people easier than ever. Social media especially expedites the process of creating groups or discussion posts. Support groups can now be assembled with the click of a button, and can help to connect survivors with each other where they can discuss their experiences and find a welcoming community. Online forums are an excellent place to not only talk about personal experiences, but also are a great way to safely access and share information and resources or even promote events. Finding and experiencing support is crucial to the healing process and technology is a great tool to build communities all over the world.
Technology as a force for good
There is an urgent need to address different forms of technology abuse, and instead harness the power of technology as a force for good. In this blog, we’ve explored a few examples of technology being used to prevent gender-based violence, but the conversation and work needs to continue. Technology must be designed with the safety of survivors in mind, as not nearly enough thought or effort is being put into coming up with online tools and resources that survivors can safely use. To harness the positives of technology to eliminate gender-based violence, we must come together to ensure that the safety and privacy of survivors is at the forefront of any solution.
If you or someone you know would like to look for resources and support, please visit
- Dixonk, S. (2022, July 13). UK: harassment experienced online 2022, by gender. Statistawww.statista.com/statistics/1319839/uk-abuse-experienced-online-by-gender/.
- Binder, G., Poulton, C. (2021, February 12). Six ways tech can help end gender-based violence. UNICEF. https://www.unicef.org/eap/blog/six-ways-tech-can-help-end-gender-based-violence
- Earnest, S., Echt, A., Garza, E., Snawder, J., Rinehart, R. (2019, November 18). blogs.cdc.gov/niosh-science-blog/2019/11/18/wearables-construction/
- Funnell, A. (2017, September 26). How technology can be used to safeguard against domestic violence.https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-09-26/how-technology-can-be-used-to-stop-domestic-violence/8981478.