There's an app for absolutely everything these days, from social media and games to online shopping and takeaways—but not, until recently, for tailored domestic violence support. At the beginning of September, UK charity Hestia launched an app for victims of abuse that really is the first of its kind, and which they hope will help to save lives.
Developed with US-based Newton Enterprise Consulting, the Bright Sky app is available on Android and iOS, and boasts a national directory of domestic abuse advocacy and support services, allowing users to locate the nearest service to them using GPS. Users can also use the app to browse educational resources on Hestia's website, and the charity hopes that friends and family, as well as victims themselves, will use it to access information and advice if they're concerned about a loved one.
With its discreet logo and innocuous name, Bright Sky could easily be a weather app to the casual observer glancing at your smartphone screen—and its discretion is a huge part of its value. Not only can users access help and information in secret, without the risks of using a shared computer or calling a helpline while their abuser is around, but the app also contains a journaling function. This allows them to document evidence of domestic abuse—in photo, video, text or audio form—which is then sent to their own chosen secure email address.
Bright Sky also offers a quiz function for users to assess the health of their relationship and reflect on whether their partner's behaviours are abusive. Hestia hopes that by allowing individuals to "independently assess their risks," this will "empower them to identify emotional abuse, coercive and controlling behaviour, and financial abuse"—behaviours that tend to be less commonly recognised as abusive, compared to physical or sexual violence. In case of emergencies, each page of the app also contains a quick-dial 999 button.
"I was abused by my partner daily for more than three years," domestic abuse survivor Hannah* told Broadly. "It wasn't just physical abuse but mental and emotional too. He would send me nasty text messages, leave me horrible voicemail messages, abuse me sexually, and hit me. I was told to keep a diary of events, to write the messages down, and to try and get pictures of myself, but it wasn't as easy as it sounds. He found the pictures—he would go through my phone and delete them. He burnt my diary in front of me when he found that, and then I paid the price afterwards."
She added: "I truly believe that If I had been using the Bright Sky app during the years I suffered, I would have been able to get the help I needed quicker than I eventually did. I would have been able to send those pictures off my phone to a safe email address, and then delete them from my handset without his knowledge. I would have been able to keep a virtual diary of what went on, and been able to locate the help I needed nearby, without having to go to the police or put myself in danger. I just needed saving, and this app could have saved me!"
As the capital's largest provider of domestic violence refuges, Hestia understands that need only too well. "This app is a huge step forward to bringing about much needed assistance to those who have experienced the trauma of an abusive relationship," said Patrick Ryan, CEO at Hestia, which offers a range of services to support 9,000 vulnerable adults and children across London.
"The app not only allows victims to record and catalogue all of their personal incidents of abuse, which can later be shared with the authorities, but it also allows them to locate the nearest support available to them anywhere and at any time. We are grateful to Newton Enterprise Consulting for helping us develop what is in essence a lifeline to hundreds of women and men across the UK," he added.
Statistics show that one in four women and one in six men in the UK are victims of domestic abuse, and two women each week are killed by a current or previous partner. The vast majority of men and women who access Hestia's services self-refer through the National Domestic Violence Helpline—a 24 hour freephone number run in partnership between Women's Aid and Refuge. Hestia hopes an added bonus of Bright Sky will be to reduce some of the pressure on this over-stretched helpline by providing victims with an additional source to access support.
The launch of Bright Sky also coincides with the launch of UK SAYS NO MORE, an awareness campaign imported from the US, which aims to end domestic abuse and sexual assault across the UK. Run in partnership with US-based NO MORE, Hestia hopes their campaign will help them to target a much broader cross-section of the public and raise awareness of all forms of domestic and sexual abuse, including coercive and controlling behaviour.
"In the NO MORE campaign we saw a way of raising awareness across the UK," Pamela Zaballa, policy head of Women and Children's Services at Hestia, said. "We want to bring about an end to by standing, and to make it the responsibility of every person across the country to bring about an end to domestic violence and sexual assault. Bright Sky provides those suffering with the ability to build a case of evidence against their perpetrator, while educating members of the public in what to look out for."
Newton Enterprise Consulting, who developed the app, offered their services pro bono to support Hestia's work. The firm's President Chris Hafner said: "Working with Hestia to define their digital strategy has been a humbling experience. The Bright Sky app will help Hestia empower more people and change more lives."
* Name has been changed