“South Africa went into a 21-day lockdown period on 27 March, in a drastic attempt to curb the spread of the devastating COVID-19. Although necessary, the lockdown leaves thousands of vulnerable women and children stuck at home with abusive partners and caregivers,” says Joanne van der Walt, Director, Sage Foundation.
“This is concerning, because South Africa has the world’s highest femicide rate.”
Behind closed doors
In his address to the nation last week, Police Minister Bheki Cele acknowledged that domestic and gender-based violence could increase during this period. It’s one reason why the government banned alcohol sales during the shutdown and strengthened the capacity of the courts and the Family Violence, Child Protection, and Sexual Offences Units to deal with matters relating to domestic violence in homes.
Alcohol is a primary trigger for violent episodes and while the ban on alcohol sales is a welcome move, many people stockpiled enough to last the shutdown. And victims of abuse say their partners were more likely to lash out after they’d been drinking.
While alcohol itself doesn’t cause domestic violence, it can aggravate already tense situations, like job losses and financial concerns as a result of the lockdown, or tensions between family members who don’t get along. In fact, Soul City-commissioned research found that, when people spend more time at home, opportunities for domestic situations increase.
This raises other questions: Will alcohol-addicted abusers become even more aggressive and unstable when stuck at home and the alcohol runs out and withdrawal kicks in? Will they drink more than usual with an abundance of alcohol in the house? These are frightening situations for victims.
Help at your fingertips
Minister Cele promised swift action against gender-based violence during the shutdown, and government’s abuse hotline should be victims’ first choice for getting help.
But sometimes they are stuck at home and can’t get away from their abusers, who might also block access to safety and support. What’s more, some victims feel uncomfortable talking to another person about their experience, due to embarrassment, social and cultural taboos, and shame.
There is another option
rAInbow is a chatbot that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to chat with users and provide accurate information on domestic violence. Whether someone is worried about what’s happening in their own life, or looking for information for someone else, rAInbow can help you understand the signs of abuse and how to get help.
Developed by AI for Good, in partnership with the Soul City Institute for Social Justice and Sage Foundation, rAInbow can be accessed 24/7 via Facebook Messenger – anonymously and safely.
It doesn’t intend to be human or to replace the human touch, but to help users validate their experiences and navigate the next steps. Co-built with survivors, it has an empathetic, friendly persona, and victims who have been shamed into silence or have no one to turn to, find comfort in opening up without the fear of being judged.
During the lockdown, people might feel more vulnerable or threatened, and incidents are likely to increase due to stress and confinement. Anyone can speak to rAInbow, at any time. It won’t ask for personal information and anything that’s shared remains strictly confidential.
To chat to rAInbow, all you need is a device connected to the internet:
- Type ‘chat2bo’ or ‘Hi Rainbow’ on Facebook Messenger, or follow this link, to start a new conversation: http://m.me/chat2bo
- You can also visit hirainbow.orgfor more information, and click ‘Start talking’ to chat
- Explore the interactive sections including stories, quizzes, resources and definitions to learn about abuse, what to do in such a situation, and how to get help.
“With rAInbow, we can reach more victims and make them aware that abuse is not their fault, they are not alone, and there are people who want to help,” says van der Walt.
Report abuse to the government’s hotline: 0800 150 150. Here is the COVID-19 support page: https://www.hirainbow.org/covid-19
*by Joanne van der Walt, Director, Sage Foundation