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How Texting Is Helping Victims of Violence Across the World

How Cell Phones are Helping Victims of Violence
One of the first things many of us do in an emergency situation is text our loved ones, but what if we can't? Often, in instances of attacks, abduction, and other violent acts, the impulse to reach for our phones subsides to the impulse to defend ourselves, and scarcely in such situations are victims even able to access their phones. Thankfully, numerous developers and organizations have found ways to put texting to use to help victims of violence, whether or not they are able to reach for their phones.

One powerful use of texting to combat violence is the work of Xin-Chi Chin, a young Malaysian woman who herself survived a violent attack and kidnapping attempt by two men in 2012. Chin teamed up with friend James Khoo to develop an app called Watch Over Me, which uses accurate GPS tracking to monitor a user's location for a period of time that the user sets before entering a potentially dangerous situation. Watch Over Me allows users to upload pictures or videos relaying information on their situation and can type out relevant notes, and if they do not tap a button informing the app that they are safe when time runs out, Watch Over Me sends a text message alert with all of the details it gathered during that time to their loved ones.

If that's not enough, Watch Over Me also allows users to simply shake their phone to trigger an emergency text alert to loved ones, and to enable video recording of the attack. The app also stores data on crime by location, and will send a text message to a user if they are entering a high-crime area to alert them of the crime level and encourage them to opt to be watched over while there. Since the app's launch in 2013, it has gained 140,000 users worldwide, most of whom so far live in Southeast Asia, where the app was designed and is best publicized.

Watch Over Me is a brilliant and powerful use of texting because, much as texting is an instant and accessible mode of alerting a loved one of danger, it's unlikely that victims will think to use their phone conventionally in a fight-or-flight emergency situation, let alone be able to. It takes advantage of all of the capabilities of a mobile device, and uses not only invaluable shortcuts to make them accessible even in the case of an attack, but programming that responds to an attack even if the user is unresponsive or robbed of their phone.

While Watch Over Me is unique for its ingenious hands-off response system, it is not the only use of texting to help and support victims of violence. Text to Change (TTC) has partnered with Bolivian organization Casa de la Mujer, which aims to improve women's quality of life, to establish a campaign called Moviles para Mujeres. Moviles para Mujeres acts both as a subscription service and an emergency alert system, sending texts to subscribers bearing notice of their legal rights as well as advice, motivational words, and information regarding any group meetings, and allowing victims to report acts of domestic violence rapidly and easily.

In the U.S., the non-profit Polaris Project is tasking SMS to help dismantle human trafficking. The Polaris Project has recently added a text messaging option to their National Human Trafficking Hotline, which facilitated over 1,500 conversations by text in its first full year. This option constitutes a very important development for human rights in that it has expanded the possibilities for victims of human trafficking of all sorts to seek help, and has made anonymous tip reporting faster and easier.

Using texting as a primary mode of this sort of violence prevention allows victims to reach out to a generally younger crowd, among whom texting is more popular. This can make many victims, especially the large portion of younger victims of attacks and violence, feel more comfortable reaching out for help. While this difference may seem trivial, a victim's comfort with their situation and their agency is personally important and should not be overlooked. It also holds practical significance; finding a mode with which victims are most comfortable can affect their feelings about their prospects for help as well as their likelihood to seek that help.

Texting may open more avenues by which to respond to violence not only for young adults, but for children in particular. In the sub-Saharan country of Togo, the initiative Plan Togo is also using texting to help children who may become victims of violence. Plan Togo, which aims to support vulnerable and marginalized youth of Togo, has launched a workshop in which children are trained to send a text message using frontline SMS should they suffer abuse or other violence to the website of Ushahidi, a partner of Plan Togo. This information is checked and verified, and is used both to ensure that the victims receive the support they need and to map instances of violence in Togo.

Texting has had many significant uses, but the use of SMS to help people remain in or find safety surely stands as one of the most important. Texting is not only a daily convenience, but a powerful force for good worldwide.

About the Author -
Sharon Housley is the VP of Marketing for NotePage, Inc. a software company for communication software solutions. http://www.notepage.net


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