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A New App Helps Domestic Violence Victims Collect the Evidence Needed to Charge Their Abusers

In one state, 80% of domestic violence cases are dismissed, often due to lack of evidence. This app will help change that.

Sheri Kurdakul is a domestic violence survivor, so she knows how hard it can be to prove the systematic nature of abuse: often by the time someone gathers the courage to report their abuser, they're trying to remember details of events that are months or years old. This can make it challenging to build a case against abusers and, unfortunately, many domestic violence cases are dismissed as a result, including 80% of cases in one state. To help make it easier for victims to document abuse, Kurdakul has created an app called VictimsVoice, which records incidences of abuse in a way that's safe, secure, and legally admissible. "What did you have for lunch 10 days ago? What was the weather like? Can you remember without looking at your calendar?" she asks. "If you cannot recall this, then how is a victim supposed to remember something that happened when they are trying to stay safe, protect their kids and pets — months, even years in the past? That’s the problem we solve."

Statistics from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence highlight the challenges victims face when they want to prosecute their abusers. Although domestic partner violence makes up 15% of all violent crime, only one-third of those injured by their partner seek medical treatment, leaving many victims without documentation of their abuse. Because of fear about the consequences of leaving a partner, or because abusers may seem apologetic about their "loss of control," many victims also don't report incidents to police — and even when they do, law enforcement may treat the situation as a "domestic dispute" rather than an assault. As a result, lack of evidence can be a major challenge for prosecuting domestic abuse cases; a recent study in New Jersey, for example, showed that 8 in 10 domestic violence cases were dismissed.

Kurdakul was inspired to create her app after watching her daughter work on an anti-bullying app for a science fair project in 2016. "It never occurred to me that you could use technology to solve problems like this," she recalls. The Princeton, New Jersey resident decided to create an app that would allow victims of abuse to document incidents in case they want to pursue legal action in future. The app asks a series of open-ended questions about each incident, and allows users to upload photos of injuries, as well as rape kit or physical exam details. Then, all of the data is encrypted and stored off-device, so that even if the abuser damages or takes a victim's phone, the information is safe. Since users can't modify entries after recording them, the app also meets strict legal standards that allow the information to be used in court.

Kurdakul has just launched her web app. which can be accessed from any device. An individual license, which keeps the app active for recording incidents, costs $39.99 annually; however, uploaded data remains securely stored even if you're not actively using or paying for the app. VictimsVoice also offers gift cards that people can send to a loved one, and there is a partner program to help those who cannot afford the cost of the license. Heather Glogolich, a police lieutenant from Morris County, NJ, a domestic violence survivor and a member of the VictimsVoice advisory board, says Kurdakul went to great lengths to ensure the app would be legally useful and accessible to as many people as possible. "Sheri hit the nail on the head with this. This is something that has been lacking for so long and this app will help to fill that void," she says. "An app like this would have been life saving for me."

Now that VictimsVoice is live, Kurdakul is working to get the word out to people who need it; she's urging people to share information about the app. "You may never know who those people are who need our help," she says, "but they will know if they need us." And she hopes that her app will help people in abusive situations recognize that they can take steps to protect themselves, even if they're not ready to leave yet. "You have to document everything and remember all of the details," she urges. "This is a really crucial factor in the process of transitioning from a victim to a survivor."

Books To Foster Healthy Relationships

Let's Talk About Body Boundaries, Consent, and Respect

Let's Talk About Body Boundaries, Consent, and Respect

Written by: Jayneen Sanders
Illustrated by: Sarah Jennings
Recommended Age: 4 - 7

It's important for kids to understand that bodies have boundaries, and that everyone has a right to their own personal space. Jayneen Sanders, an experienced early years educator, provides simple and familiar scenarios — from giving a hug to pushing to get to the front of a line — to illustrate how "body bubbles" surround everyone and how to figure out when and if it's okay to cross those boundaries. Throughout, she empowers kids to speak up if their body boundaries have been crossed. Notes at the end include suggestions for adults reading the book with kids to further the discussion, building an understanding of respect and consent that will serve them throughout their lives.

Stand Up for Yourself and Your Friends

Dealing with Bullies and Bossiness and Finding a Better Way

Stand Up for Yourself and Your Friends

Dealing with Bullies and Bossiness and Finding a Better Way

Written by: Patti Kelley Criswell
Illustrated by: Angela Martini
Recommended Age: 7 - 12

This book from the American Girl Library is a great starting point for tweens looking for advice on dealing with bullies. Rather than telling girls that there is a “right” way to handle a bully, this book gives a variety of different options, from ignoring taunts to comebacks to involving adults, as well as advice as to how to decide which strategy to use. The book acknowledges that not all mean behavior is necessarily malicious, though, and also provides a guide to knowing how to stand up to a friend who is behaving badly without being mean yourself.

A Smart Girl's Guide: Boys

A Smart Girl's Guide: Boys

Written by: Nancy Holyoke
Illustrated by: Bonnie Timmons
Recommended Age: 9 - 13

The tween years are when many girls start thinking about romantic relationships — but without guidance, it's hard for them to know what a good relationship should look like. In this updated guide from the American Girl Library, girls will get sensitive and honest advice from both girls and boys about being friends versus dating; what it's like to go out with someone; and what to do when you're not interested in someone or when it's time for a relationship to end. Throughout, the book emphasizes confidence and reminds girl that the right person will treat you well, make you feel safe, and appreciate you for who you are.

Once You Know This

Once You Know This

Written by: Emily Blejwas
Recommended Age: 10 - 13

Eleven-year-old Brittany wants a better life, but has no idea how to get there. Her mother's boyfriend is physically abusive and forbids her from working, leaving the family desperately short of money. At the same time, Brittany's beloved great-grandmother has dementia and is rapidly declining. School provides Brittany with an escape into reading and writing, a friend to support her, and a teacher who introduces the idea of "plan B." And when Brittany realizes there may be someone they can reach out to for support, maybe she and her family can find the courage to leave Jack's abuse behind. While this book takes an unflinching look at serious issues including abuse and poverty, its ultimate resolution is hopeful, reminding readers that a better life is worth reaching for.

Consent: The New Rules of Sex Education

Every Teen's Guide to Healthy Sexual Relationships

Consent: The New Rules of Sex Education

Every Teen's Guide to Healthy Sexual Relationships

Written by: Jennifer Lang MD
Recommended Age: 14 and up

Sex education often focuses on the mechanics of sex — but good sex education provides the perfect place to discuss respectful relationships and the importance of consent. Dr. Jennifer Lang, a board-certified OB-GYN, has written a groundbreaking, evidence-based guide to healthy sexual relationships, designed to talk to today's teens — no matter what their sexual identity or orientation. With a frank but compassionate tone, she helps teens identify what a healthy relationship looks like, so that they can make empowered decisions about their bodies and boundaries.

Always Forever Maybe

Always Forever Maybe

Written by: Anica Mrose Rissi
Recommended Age: 15 and up

When Betts meets Aiden, she falls head over heels in love. It's frustrating that her best friend, Jo, doesn't see how perfect Aiden is! And with Jo insisting that Aiden is possessive and controlling, it only makes sense that Betts starts keeping a few secrets. Even her twin, Eric, doesn't seem to understand. Until one day, Aiden explodes in a way that forces Betts to see the truth... This unflinching story about an abusive teenage relationship is sympathetic to how easy it can be to get caught up in one — and how challenging it can be to leave — and highlights the power of a strong friendship to provide support when it's needed most.

Why Does He Do That?

Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men

Why Does He Do That?

Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men

Written by: Lundy Bancroft
Recommended Age: 16 and up

In this alarming but important investigation into how abusive men think, author Lundy Bancroft — the former codirector of Emerge, the nation's first program for abusive men — tackles the myths and deceptions about abusive behavior and provides a roadmap for improving, surviving, or leaving an abusive partner. Bancroft helps break down the early warning signs that a person has potential to be abusive; how you can tell if an abuser is capable of change, and if so, what can be fixed; and how to protect yourself while in the relationship — and when you leave it. Candid and groundbreaking, this is a powerful resource for anyone who wants to take on the epidemic of domestic violence.

Saving Beauty From The Beast

How To Protect Your Daughter From An Unhealthy Relationship

Saving Beauty From The Beast

How To Protect Your Daughter From An Unhealthy Relationship

After surviving the heartbreak of her daughter being killed by a boyfriend, Vicki Crompton decided she had to raise her voice and educate the public about dating violence. In this book, she teams up with writer Ellen Zelda Kessner to provide specific and easily applicable tactics to address the problem, including what to say before she starts dating; how to identify an unhealthy relationship as it grows; and how to break the cycle of control while still keeping lines of communication open. Full of real stories from girls and their parents, as well as strategies from psychologists, this book passionately lays out the case for ensuring that everyone takes a hand in ending domestic and dating violence for good.

Written by: Gavin de Becker
Recommended Age: Adults

Unwarranted fear can hold you back — but true fear, brought on by gut instinct recognizing subtle signs of danger, is a gift. Gavin de Becker, a leader expert on violent behavior, helps readers understand how to tell the difference in this empowering book. Whether you're concerned about a stranger you've encountered on the street or wondering if a partner's behavior is a warning sign of future physical or emotional abuse, de Becker can help you figure out what your fear is unconsciously identifying and how to respond so that you stay safe.

Price: $8.00

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