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 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. The website includes a Safety Exit button which ensures that the site doesn't remain in the browser history. And since users can't modify entries after recording them, the app meets strict US legal standards, allowing the information to be used in court.
Kurdakul launched the Victims Voice app, which can be accessed from any device, to great success last year. 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 or give as a donation to help someone in need, and there is a partner program that makes it simple for organizations that work with victims of domestic violence to set up accounts for their clients. The company has also recently partnered with The Halo App, a peer-to-peer lending system that can provide licenses to those in need, as well as cash loans for those who need financial support to escape an abusive relationship.
Heather Glogolich, a police lieutenant from Morris County, NJ who is a domestic violence survivor and a member of the VictimsVoice advisory board, says Kurdakul went to great lengths to ensure the app would be both 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."
One year after its launch, VictimsVoice has active users in all 50 states, and evidence gathered through the app has already been used as legally admissible evidence in multiple court cases. During the coronavirus crisis, which has contributed to a sharp uptick in domestic violence, Kurdakul says that the company has seen a significant increase in use of the app with over thirty states experiencing double-digit percentage increases in March and April compared to January and February. One state, Utah, experienced a 450% increase in activity during this period.
To help support and protect women facing domestic violence during shutdowns and restrictions, when it's more difficult than ever to leave an abusive relationship, VictimsVoice has committed to donate as many licenses as necessary to ensure every woman in need has access even though it's a challenging financial time for the nonprofit itself. "COVID may be the pandemic in the news, but domestic violence is still the silent and deadly killer," Kurdakul writes, "and we aim to give a long-overdue advantage to victims."
Although VictimsVoice is currently only legally admissible in the US, Kurdakul says that they are seeking more partners intentionally in hopes of supporting programs that would allow similar evidence gathering around the world. And she encourages people to spread the word about the app, even if they don't think they know anyone who could use it. "You may never know who those people are who need our help," she says, "but they will know if they need us." She hopes that her app will continue to 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"He doesn't mean to hurt me — he just loses control." "He can be sweet and gentle." "He's scared me a few times, but he never hurts the children — he's a great father..." Women in abusive relationships tell themselves these things every day. Now they can see inside the minds of angry and controlling men — and change their own lives. In this groundbreaking book, Lundy Bancroft, a counselor who specializes in working with abusive men, uses his thirty years of experience to break down the early warning signs of abuse, ten abusive personality types, what you can fix and what you can't fix in a relationship, and how to get out of an abusive relationship safely. This powerful book is an invaluable resource to help women better understand the thinking of abusive men, recognize when they are being controlled or devalued, and find ways to get free of an abusive 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.
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.