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By 16 November 2018 | Categories: news

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This year it seems, technology has grown up quite a bit, with it increasingly being used to address very pertinent, pressing and social issues that need to be solved rather than just makes lots of money. The latest example of this? A new artificial intelligence (AI) smart companion whose sole purpose is to combat domestic abuse in South Africa.

Called rAInbow, the smart companion uses artificial intelligence and storytelling to help victims of domestic violence find support through prevention, intervention and access to resources.

It 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.

Kriti Sharma, founder AI for Good, AI lead at Sage

Tell me your story

Furthermore, rAInbow provides scenario-based stories to its users, enabling them to 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. This is essential, because domestic abuse can often be an isolating circumstance.

It's thus fitting that an answer to domestic abuse was done as a joint effort. The smart companion, which has been funded by the Sage Foundation was launched by the company in has partnered with AI for Good and Soul City Institute for Social Justice,

“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,” explained Debbie Wall, the vice president of Sage Foundation.

All too common

As well, the solution sadly is highly relevant to South Africa, which, the Sage Foundation pointed out has the highest reported rate of femicide in the world. And yet, domestic violence is often 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.

As to what rAInbow is hoped to accomplish, Kriti Sharma, AI lead at Sage and founder of AI for Good, explained that they expect rAInbow to provide insights that can lead to social and governance reform, which could 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,” elaborated Sharma.

To this end,  rAInbow has been designed to be friendly, reassuring, and will never judge or tell victims what to do or put them at risk. Rather, Sharma reassured, it is intended to provide useful information and guidance, and encourage victims to seek support from their friends and family.

The types of questions users can ask rAInbow include, “What are the signs of abuse?”, “S/he hits me. Can you help me?” and “ I feel threatened in my relationship. Can you help?”

Out of the darkness

“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,” added 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,” she continued.

“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,” concluded Sharma.

To start talking with rAInbow about domestic violence, those interested can search for ‘Hi rAInbow’ in the Facebook Messenger app, or visit www.hirainbow.org and click ‘Start talking’.

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