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Can AI cast some light on the Shadow Pandemic?

Can AI cast some light on the Shadow Pandemic?

South Africa will go into mourning between 25 and 29 November, to honour those who have lost their lives to COVID-19, gender-based violence (GBV), and femicide, and to mark the start of 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children, according to Joanne Van der Walt, Global Director at Sage Foundation

Identified by UN Women as the Shadow Pandemic, GBV has intensified since the outbreak of COVID-19 – and nobody speaks about it.

But we have to talk about it. Now, more than ever.

The upcoming holiday season, which traditionally sees an increase in domestic violence incidents, will be stress-feulled this year. With the pandemic costing many people their jobs, with no bonuses for holidays and gifts, and with the pressure of the year that was, we can’t allow domestic violence to be pushed further into the shadows.

Victims need a source of comfort in times when a human is not available, when they’re not comfortable talking to another person, when they can’t get away, or they’ve been shamed into silence.

rAInbow is that safe, anonymous space.

Powered by artificial intelligence (AI), rAInbow – or “Bo” – is a smart companion that provides information about victims’ rights and options, in friendly, simple language.

Accessible 24/7 via Facebook Messenger or online, Bo will never judge or tell victims what to do or put them at risk. It provides useful information and guidance, and encourages victims to seek support from friends and family. Bo takes it back to basics by helping users to spot the signs of abuse, judge what’s healthy and unhealthy behaviour, and find helpful resources.

Since its launch in 2018, over 18,480 users have exchanged more than 893,000 messages in 50,600 conversations with rAInbow, seeking advice on things like:

  • Lockdown,
  • National helplines and abuse services,
  • Child services helplines and resources,
  • Depression and substance abuse,
  • Legal aid, and
  • Safety and exit planning.

It features the stories of women who were in abusive relationships and the steps they took to get out, covering topics like divorce, evidence gathering, and protection orders.

The newly-launched legal module was designed to help victims understand their rights and to link them to resources such as Legal Aid South AfricaWomen’s Legal CentreLawyers for Human Rights, and the Warrior Project.

No more assumptions. No more excuses. Just solid data.

Because it’s powered by AI and advanced Natural Language Processing (NLP) technology, rAInbow gets better the more people use it. What’s more, it provides valuable insights into domestic violence in South Africa and gives us a better understanding about attitudes surrounding domestic violence, the language victims use when talking about their experiences, an overview of the trends fuelling domestic abuse, and a better idea about the kind of support and advice that victims really need.

For example:

  • Only one in 1,000 users refer to themselves as being in a violent relationship, with the majority saying their relationship “doesn’t feel right”.
  • Most users are between 18 and 24 years old.
  • Engagement peaks between 5pm and midnight on Friday and Saturday nights, suggesting alcohol is a significant factor in domestic violence.
  • On average, users exchange between 28 and 37 messages with Bo, up from 14 messages at the beginning of 2020.
  • Since the lockdown began, there has been a 156% increase in active users and a 118% increase in new users.

It’s important that any domestic violence tool is accessible, discrete, and offers a way to get help silently and anonymously. rAInbow is a basic but powerful digital tool that encourages victims to be brave and to seek help. But, if they’re not yet ready to take that step, Bo is a good place to start talking.

Here’s what some of our users have to say about Bo:

  • “It helped me realise that I’m not the only one in an unhealthy relationship.”
  • “It helped me to heal from my previous relationship.”
  • “I left him!”

As an impact funding partner, Sage and Sage Foundation are proud to be associated with rAInbow. Technology like AI can fill existing gaps, like being available to victims when traditional help centres are closed or inaccessible. And if we can support the technology that ultimately leads to just one victim getting help, then we’ve achieved what we set out to.

Get help, anonymously. Search for ‘Hi rAInbow’ in the Facebook Messenger app and type “Hi”. Or visit and click ‘Chat now’.

Clare Petra Matthes

Hi, I'm Clare and I am a freelance writer and Tech journalist as well as the owner and founder of where I review tech devices and also cover emerging technology news. Outside of I write for a number of publications and have regular tech slots on chaiFM radio station and eNCA's Tech Matters national breakfast TV news show.

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