Work

Tech vs Abuse

Empowering victims of domestic abuse with technology

Young woman looking forward in front of dark background bathed in colour light
Woman facing away from camera bathed in coloured light

Every year, over 2 million people in the UK experience domestic abuse, and 7 women are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales every month. At the same time we are living in a digital age, with 82% of adults using the internet everyday (Office of National Statistics)

Domestic abuse takes many forms: psychological, physical, sexual, financial, and emotional. At its core is control and coercion, and the impact on individuals and families is profound and long-lasting.

Technology that was originally designed to make our lives easier is sometimes used against people in abusive relationships. WhatsApp shows when a user was last online; Find my Friends shows locations; banking apps can reveal spending patterns; and social media shows who users interact with. Digital platforms and smart tech have revolutionised communication and the way we gather information, but they are also subject to abusive control and coercion.

Comic Relief’s Tech vs Abuse fund aims to mitigate these issues. They believe that tech can become an empowering tool that enables survivors to make connections, and ensures they have the information they need to rebuild their independence safely and sustainably. In 2016 Snook was brought onboard with Chayn and SafeLives to deliver a ground-breaking research project about just that.

There’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution

We responded to this brief by gathering insights from over 200 victims and survivors of domestic abuse and the 350 practitioners who supported them through surveys, workshops, interviews, and co-design sessions.

Every story shared was unique, and illustrated how technology could be used – both positively and negatively. We learnt that key opportunities were missed to better protect and support victims and survivors online at crucial moments in their journey. There was also a distinct lack of capacity, confidence, and knowledge in using tech among frontline practitioners. Furthermore, the majority of digital tools available to those experiencing domestic abuse had been developed by private companies in America. The overwhelming conclusion was that there is a joint responsibility to ensure victims, survivors – and the services supporting them – can make best use of technology.

Woman facing away from camera bathed in coloured light

These insights formed Tech vs Abuse: a website, tools and report that listed our research findings, design principles and design challenges. These challenges included: realising it’s abuse; a safer digital footprint; the fifteen minute window; accessible legal and financial information; and effective real-time live services.

Woman facing away from camera bathed in coloured light
Iconography created to humanise workshops, road maps and reports

Impact

Comic Relief used our work to help allocate funding to organisations that are tackling the 5 design challenges outlined in our original report – this has lead to varied, innovative, and exciting results that have made resources, solutions and support more available and usable for those in need. Some highlights include: Hestia’s ‘bright sky’ app that supports victims and concerned family or friends; Chayn’s practical online guides and resources; and The Mix’s guide for realising what abuse actually looks like.

“There’s been a lot of innovation since 2016. The projects funded seemed fantastic. To see that people are using the Bright Sky App just shows how much these solutions are needed and can make a difference.”

TechvsAbuse report — 2019
Custom typography designed for materials to give a tactile and approachable feel
Right: Custom typography designed for materials to give a tactile and approachable feel

After launching the original report, in 2019 we worked with Think Social Tech and Safe Lives to launch Tech vs Abuse 2.0, an initiative organised by Comic Relief, funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and the Clothworkers Foundation. It outlines new findings, risks and opportunities since 2016, with an intersectional focus that considers all victims of domestic abuse – not just women.

Beyond being an online resource, what makes this research exciting is its potential to change lives. By showing people where the true challenges lie and influencing the industry through focused funding, we can enable victims and survivors to live independent and fuller lives.

“Snook were enthusiastic and passionate and delivered the workshops and on-site support in a way which both gave councils the skills, tools and knowledge, but more importantly helped them move forward in addressing practical and real local challenges.”

Mark Golledge — Local Government Association