Apps against domestic violence: 21st-century solutions to an old problem


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There is a statistic that both astonishes and troubles me: the leading cause of injury to women is not traffic accidents, crime or serious disease. It is domestic violence.

One in four women will fall victim to this type of violence in her lifetime. In other words, a quarter of the female population, a shocking figure that reminds us that these are not anonymous women, but rather acquaintances, colleagues, neighbors, people we run into on the subway every day. 

I say women because they make up the vast majority of victims. To make matters worse, most cases are never reported. In surveys, women are frequently reluctant to acknowledge the abuse they have suffered at the hands of partners or relatives.

This makes it extraordinarily difficult to obtain an accurate picture of the problem. Domestic violence is a global ill that affects both developed and emerging societies.

However, it is particularly widespread in Latin America. For example, in Central America, half of all women are at risk of domestic violence during their lifetime. Beyond the physical and mental suffering caused by this scourge, domestic violence clearly hinders the development of nations.

It not only impacts the individual, but also affects societies and economies, given that victims cannot fully participate or contribute. I believe that complex problems require a variety of solutions. Here at the World Bank, we have been analyzing different types of gender violence and have observed that women’s capacity to act and make their own decisions is crucial for achieving gender equality and development.

To this end, society should support women and give them the tools they need to overcome the obstacles they face. In today’s world, where the best solutions arise from the marriage of technology and the human spirit, I believe there should be digital responses to social problems.

In this spirit, last weekend we organized a hackathon against domestic violence in seven cities across Central America and in Washington D.C.. The response was spectacular, both in terms of the quality of individual contributions and the spirit of community collaboration.

Winning Apps

For 36 hours straight, nearly 400 ‘hackers’ worked to develop the best digital solutions and responses to questions such as: How can technology help victims to access legal, health and accomodation services? How can technology help to determine if someone is at risk? How can we connect victims with jobs and services to help them rebuild their lives?

The combined simplicity and effectiveness of some of the winning apps is truly impressive.

Here is a sample:

  • Hackers from Washington D.C. created an online application against cyber-stalking. The winning proposal not only alerts victims to the presence of a tracking device, but also gives them information on how to remove it from their cell phones.
  • Another application, also from the Washington D.C. hackathon, alerts friends and family when a young woman is taken abroad for a forced marriage. It is estimated that over 3,000 young women have been forcibly taken from the United States over the past two years.
  • Winners in El Salvador focused on prevention, with an emergency Web and SMS-integrated hotline that provides information on gender violence and how to report it.
  • In Costa Rica, hackers concentrated on teenagers. Using Facebook, they developed an app asking young people how healthy their relationship is. 
  • In Guatemala, where there are more cell phones than people, most of the eight prototypes created used SMS to help victims find work, report abuse and get advise in case of domestic violence.

Also in Guatemala, the winning team took advantage of the anonymity of social networks to create a virtual space where victims can share their experiences.

These are just a few of the dozens of apps created during this hackathon. Nothing would make me, and the region’s thousands of domestic violence victims, happier than to be able to make the problem disappear, as if by magic, simply by touching a screen to activate a help app.

Although this was a positive experience, we know that we are only just beginning the search for 21st-century solutions to an old and incessant problem.



Hasan Tuluy

Former World Bank Regional Vice President for Latin America & the Caribbean

Join the Conversation

February 05, 2013

Agreed that domestic violence is one of the biggest tragedies and technology can play an important role in bringing attention to the things that generally happen behind closed doors, away from the public eye.

However, technology is never going to eliminate a social problem on its own. No app will "make the problem disappear, as if by magic". If you really want to tackle domestic violence, I think the focus should not be on "digital responses to social problems" but rather how technology can enable social responses to social problems.

I'm not saying anything against the apps mentioned, they look good, I'm just commenting on the overall tone of this post.

February 06, 2013

My children and i are domestic violence survivors. It's been almost 8 years since we escaped from the abuser, yet we are barely rebuilding our lives. I wish for my children and I to live a safe, healthy and normal lives. It's been a very long uphill struggle. We are tired, but we refuse to give up. There's no one else who would help us. We are avoided like a plague, as if my children and I caused the abuses. Perhaps those with brilliant minds could come up with new solutions to eradicate domestic violence.

Joc Humble
February 06, 2013

Letter to the Editor
One Billion Rising

The activist and author of “The Vagina Monologues”, Eve Ensler is giving Valentine’s Day, February 14th 2013, another purpose by staging the worldwide campaign, One Billion Rising. Research suggests that one third of the world’s female population will be raped, beaten or sexually abused at some stage in her life. This equates to one billion women and girls. Such a campaign seems to be an appropriate and timely vehicle for highlighting this tragic and brutal part of women’s experiences that have existed for way too long.

The incidence of sexual abuse worldwide has never been so apparent as now. The rebels in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are currently boldly and systematically raping hundreds of thousands of women and girls as a part of warfare. New Delhi has been revealed as the rape capital of India, following a most horrific fatal gang rape of a young university student last December that shocked the world. And closer to home, aboriginal women experience rape at six times the rate of non-Aboriginal women. The taboo that still surrounds these sex crimes can only hinder any shift in the societal attitudes that keeps the ugly truth hidden.
The silence and the injustice of rape and sexual assault is not a women’s issue, it is a global crisis. So this Valentine’s Day, as you toast your loved one, give a thought to the women and girls around the world who aren’t so lucky. And maybe join the One Billion Rising to put a stop to violence against women. Go to for more information.
J Humble, Brisbane, Australia.

February 07, 2013

All Solutions Welcome!

Isabella Micali Drossos
February 12, 2013

Dear you, Do not give up the fight.... I know exactly how you feel having seen that happening with my own sister. Think that you are not alone and that there is an incredible solidarity... event silent. You are not the plague... you are just my sister. Be strong, be hopeful ! Love, Isabella

Hank K. Nambhaphant
February 15, 2013

On the contrary, advance in technology brings in its wakes social economic pressure and stresses and strains on body, mind, way of life, lifestyles and relationships. Temper could easily be frayed. People live in the fast lane so much so that they may not be so tolerant, considerate and sympathetic as before. By the way, stress gives rise to emotional tensions which could lapse into a hotbed of diseases.

February 18, 2013

Being from New Delhi, which is actually a 'Rape Capital' of the 'Rape Country' where all the crimes against women are justified in the eyes of men & older women too...wonder what technologies & apps would help to make things a little better for women of my country. Whatever apps that help out the women are welcome!!! Specially if they are built keeping poor/ weak economical section in mind...

Also Hats Off to the women of this country...despite undergoing & surviving abuse some or the other time in their lifetime the undying spirit for doing better for their & kids furture is commendable...I know these ladies have long history of bearing the pain & picking their life from nowhere and going ahead...

The most crucial app would be making them 'Smile' and not loosing patience & confidence even after such mishap....Please if someone can!! its more of socio-emotional requirement rather than technological...

February 20, 2013

I am so very glad that sensitive subjects like domestic violence and abuse, both sexual and physical, are, at last, being brought out into the open.

For nineteen years, I was abused in every way by my husband and was left but a shell of the woman I had been and also with five children to care for.

I was impelled, ultimately, into writing my autobiography which tells, with total and absolute honesty, events which almost destroyed me. This book is available via Amazon and is entitled "Tell 'em you're from t'Fish Shop". It would be wonderful if you would do me the great honour of reading it and see that there is usually light at the end of the tunnel.

Alternative Dispute Resolution NJ
August 17, 2013

Really useful invention.