ProtectMe – An App Helping to Protect Victims of Sexual Abuse
Background: Last year about 14000 children fell victim to sexual abuse according to the Polizeiliche Kriminalstatistik. However, it is believed that the dark figure is substantially higher, some reports suggesting that approximately only 1 out of 20 cases are reported to legal authorities, one of the reasons for this being that the abuser often (about 90% of the time) is found in the closer social environment (family and friends of relatives) of the victim. Additionally, it might be difficult to confide in legal authorities due to victim-blaming, psychological stress (e.g. due to facing family members in court) and failure to provide permanent safety to the victim. Social media campaigns are often directed at older audiences, place greater focus on shaming abusers rather than preventing crimes, as well as making it unlikely that the voice of one victim will be heard due to the great number of posts. The only mode of reliable communication are help hotlines. Howeve, they are often not centralised and may not work well alone.
Proposed solution: To develop an app (ProtectMe) offering child victims of sexual abuse an education resource, a safe outlet for communication about the crime and the legal conviction of the abuser, while at the same time ensuring that the threshold for using the app are set as low as possible. The app will be free to download in the app store. No personal information will need to be disclosed in order to access the services of the app. Entering a chat with a therapist (if the user decides to do so) will naturally require the permission of the user. Moreover, the app will have the option to enter “incognito mode”, whereby the app symbol may be hidden from the home screen to ward off suspicious looks.
On the app itself, the user has four different sets of services available: education, chatting, calling and redirection. If the user should decide to refrain from using one of the person-to-person communication aspects of the app, he/she will still be able to access educational material, with the intent of answering some of the possible burning questions the user may have, such as: What is abuse? How do I deal with the situation? The language will be simple to understand and from reliable sources, with useful contact details of appropriate authorities (e.g. child aid projects, therapists). This redirection aspect will ensure that if the app user does not trust this digital form of communication the app relies on, has gained the courage to seek contact with authoritative figures or for some other reason would like to have (additional) guidance in handling his/her current situation, he/she will find a chance to do so.
However, the main focus of the app will be on chat. These chats are between the user of the app and therapists. This will enable the user to share their story and find professional opinions and support. If the user wishes, he/she can submit evidence in the form of videos, pictures or other media that will allow the conviction of the abuser without the knowledge of him- or herself beforehand. The app will also offer direct access to an emergency call to the police. However, it should be noted that the main purpose of the app will not be the incrimination of family members, but the support of children facing psychological, legal and social barriers.