It’s a man’s world but tech can take you over the rAInbow
World-first AI technology launched in SA will combat gender-based violence through an app
SA is tackling gender-based violence against women in a very modern way.
Help will now come in the form of a robot, or a smart companion, giving aid to victims of domestic violence through the Facebook Messenger app.
rAInbow, or Bow for short, is the brainchild of developer Kriti Sharma, the artificial intelligence (AI) leader at Sage, in partnership with the Soul City Institute for Social Justice, the Sage Foundation and AI for Good.
The technology was launched on Thursday in Bryanston, Johannesburg.
“We are very excited that this world-first technology is launching in South Africa first to drive social change using innovation,” Sharma said.
The bot is an AI-powered smart companion designed to give unbiased, nonjudgmental support and advice to victims and survivors of domestic violence in SA.
“It is as easy chatting with a friend on your phone,” Sharma said. “You can ask rAInbow questions like: ‘Is it normal for my partner to control my money or check my phone?’ Or even more complex issues around alcohol abuse and impact on children.”
The technology has already had more than 50,000 conversations with 1,000 unique users in SA.
Sharma said the questions most often posted were: What are the signs of abuse?
S/he hits me. Can you help me?
I feel threatened in my relationship. Can you help? The bot also provides scenario-based, personalised stories to users, which helps them identify patterns in their own relationships or those of their friends and family members.
“For example, the journey of characters who have overcome violent situations involving alcohol abuse. In those patterns, they can make sense of what they’re experiencing and share their understanding with others.
“The stories are relatable and may sound familiar, which helps victims understand that they are not the only ones experiencing intimate partner violence and that support is available, even though at times it can feel like an isolating and uncomfortable situation,” Sharma said.
She chose to tackle violence against women because she believes it is a crisis in SA. “As many as one in three SA women are affected by domestic violence and women will typically suffer up to 30 incidents of abuse before they seek help.
“The rate of femicide in South Africa is higher than anywhere else in the world, with the killing of a female partner or spouse often precluded by a pattern of domestic abuse.”
Claudia Lopes of the Heinrich Böll Stiftung Foundation gave a talk earlier in the year entitled “Setting the Scenes – Domestic Violence Sheltering in SA”, in which she said a physical/psychological war was raging against women in SA.
Her comments were supported by 2017/2018 crime stats released on September 11.
The report said 177,620 social contact crimes had been committed against women during this period. Social contact crimes are crimes committed by a perpetrator known to the victim. Contact crimes are crimes in which victims themselves are the targets.
These crimes include: Murder
Rape Attempted murder Assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm
Common assault Common robbery
Sexual assault In 2017/2018, 2,930 women were murdered in SA.
According to StatsSA report Crime against Women in South Africa – An In-depth Analysis of the Victims of Crime Survey Data 2018, “the fear of crime limits women’s engagement in various daily activities”.
According to the report, 68,5% of the sexual offences victims were women. Another topic in the study was whether it was acceptable for a man to hit a woman.
“It is estimated from the survey that 3,3% of men and 2,3% of women in SA think it is acceptable for a man to hit a woman.”
This is exactly the type of thinking rAInbow is trying to change.
Soul City conducted focus groups and interviews to better understand opportunities for rAInbow to help women respond to domestic abuse. They looked at vulnerable women’s attitudes towards finding and trusting help on their mobile devices. They found women were open to “conversation” with appropriate answers and resources.
“In our focus groups, victims of domestic violence welcomed the idea of anonymous, well-informed assistance that was easily and securely available on mobiles,” said Lebogang Ramafoko, CEO at Soul City. “Those who knew someone who had been abused said they wanted to offer advice, but didn’t know if their advice was right or useful and appreciated trustworthy information and guidance to share.
“Abuse is not only physical. It can be emotional, financial and intellectual ... while there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, rAInbow provides a safe, nonjudgmental space for women who have been shamed into silence to talk about abuse. With rAInbow, we can reach more victims,” Ramafoko said.