Newly launched AI smart companion aims to combat domestic violence in South Africa
Sage Foundation has partnered with AI for Good and Soul City Institute for Social Justice to launch rAInbow, an artificial intelligence (AI) powered smart companion to support victims of domestic violence. Funded by Sage Foundation, rAInbow aims to democratise access to information and support for victims of intimate partner violence (commonly referred to as domestic violence), as well as their friends and family.
The smart companion was developed following research and focus groups conducted by Soul City, in which it interviewed victims of domestic violence to better understand how they seek help. It can be accessed 24/7 via Facebook Messenger and provides a safe space for domestic violence victims to access information about their rights, support options, and where they can find help – in friendly, simple language.
rAInbow also provides scenario-based stories to users, which helps them identify patterns in their own relationships or those of their friends and family members. 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 comfortless situation.
South Africa has the highest reported rate of femicide in the world, yet domestic violence is a hidden issue due, in part, to the stigma and shame associated with it. Typically, women will suffer up to 30 incidents of abuse before they seek help.
Debbie Wall, VP, Sage Foundation, says: “Women empowerment and upliftment are important focus areas for Sage Foundation. We saw an opportunity to become an impact investment partner in rAInbow, and to support its launch in South Africa, which has a high rate of domestic violence. Artificial intelligence is important to Sage, not only to enhance our products and customer experience, but also to bring about real change in the world. We’re proud to be a passionate supporter of this project and we’re excited to see the impact it will have in many people’s lives.”
Tech for good
“We expect rAInbow to give us insights that can lead to social and governance reform, which can significantly contribute to ongoing change and improved safety of women in society. More people are realising the potential of exponential technologies and innovation to solve social challenges. rAInbow is a new approach to an old problem and our hope is that it will make it easy for people to get help,” says Kriti Sharma, AI lead at Sage and founder of AI for Good.
“rAInbow is friendly, reassuring, and will never judge or tell victims what to do or put them at risk. Rather, it will provide useful information and guidance, and encourage victims to seek support from their friends and family. The stories that rAInbow tells is an effective way to inform victims about their rights and options. Stories have been shared for generations, to pass on knowledge and learning. As effective as stories are in teaching us to love and respect one another, they are as effective in teaching us that domestic violence is not ok.” says Sharma.
The types of questions users can ask rAInbow include:
What are the signs of abuse?
S/he hits me. Can you help me?
I feel threatened in my relationship. Can you help?
While rAInbow does not pretend to ‘be human’, the blend of conversational language with a familiar technology makes it feel as informal and relaxed as speaking to a friend. Users do not need to share their personal information, download an app, or access a separate website to use the free service. Any information they users share with rAInbow will be anonymous and strictly confidential.
“Abuse is not only physical. It can be emotional, financial, and intellectual. At Soul City, we’ve tried to bring this issue out of the shadows, to encourage more women to find help,” says Lebogang Ramafoko, CEO at Soul City. “While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, rAInbow provides a safe, non-judgemental space for women who have been shamed into silence to talk about abuse. With rAInbow, we can reach more victims. We can make them aware that abuse is not their fault and they are not alone. Domestic violence is a crime they don’t have to live with and help is available.”
For Soul City, it’s important that any domestic violence tool is accessible, appropriate, and helpful to users. To this end, Soul City referred to their own experiences, as supported by a wealth of existing research on the occurrence and nature of intimate partner violence in South Africa and globally. The team conducted focus groups and interviews to better understand opportunities for rAInbow to help women respond to the threat and reality of domestic abuse, particularly their attitudes to finding and trusting help on their mobile devices. This research framed the “conversation” with appropriate answers and resources targeted to women’s needs and preferences.
“In our focus groups, victims of domestic violence welcomed the idea of anonymous, well-informed assistance that was easily and securely available on mobiles. They want to access advice and support without revealing anything about themselves, except their feelings and experiences. They want to engage without committing,” says Ramafoko. “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.”
To start talking with rAInbow about domestic violence, search for ‘Hi rAInbow’ in the Facebook Messenger app. Or visit www.hirainbow.org and click ‘Start talking’.