Technology Gives a Voice to Domestic Violence Victims and Survivors

The National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) gets its name from the way it supports 56 state and territorial coalitions with training, technical assistance and other resources for 2,000-plus local programs. But increasingly, “network” also refers to the way the NNEDV helps victims and survivors use mobile and social networks to get help and stay safe.

Over the past 10 years, Verizon Wireless has helped enable that focus by partnering with the NNEDV on initiatives such as HopeLine, where customers can donate old phones. Those are either refurbished and provided to domestic violence survivors or, if they’re too old, recycled and the proceeds donated to local shelters.

I recently spoke with Kim Gandy, NNEDV president and CEO, about how her organization is using technology to give domestic violence survivors and victims a voice.

What are some highlights from the NNEDV’s work with Verizon Wireless over the years?

We launched the Safety Net Technology Project 12 years ago, and Verizon Wireless was one of the early funders.  Back then, many advocates were saying: “Don’t use email. Don’t use your computer; it could have spyware. Give up your cell phone; it could be tracked.” That was pretty common advice from advocates who were trying to increase survivor safety. But for many people, cell phones and social media are their lifelines to their family and friends when they’re isolated.

The Safety Net Technology Project has evolved with the technology. There’s an increasing amount of technology that can be used for ill, but the technology itself is not bad. So one of the goals of the Safety Net team is to say, “It’s not the technology that’s bad; it’s the way that it’s misused by abusers.” You have to be able to combat those uses and deal with the people who are misusing the technology – and talk about these technology issues in plain, everyday language. The team keeps the community up-to-date about emerging technology issues on their blog:

For the past two years, Verizon Wireless has sponsored our NNEDV Technology Summit, which has brought together technology companies – Verizon Wireless, Google, Facebook, Apple, Mozilla, Airbnb, Amazon, Qualcomm and others – along with law enforcement, prosecutors, judges and domestic violence advocates to collaborate on how to keep victims safe.

We work with Verizon Wireless in a lot of areas. For instance, right now we’re doing reviews of safety apps for the Verizon Wireless site. There are so many apps that purport to help people who might be in danger, but some are much better than others. Verizon Wireless asked to us to test many domestic violence and personal safety apps and evaluate how effective they are and whether they actually do what they say they do. [Otherwise], somebody [could] download an inadequate app, count on it in an emergency and be let down. The results could be tragic.

How will people know which ones have been vetted? For example, will there be an NNEDV seal of approval on each app’s download page?

NNEDV’s App Center will identify the apps that have been reviewed and provide thoughtful input on best uses, strengths, and any limitations or concerns. These short write-ups will be linked from the Verizon website and housed on our site. So, for example, if people search for “ASPIRE app review,” they’ll find the Safety Net team’s app safety tips.

We’ve also been working with Verizon Wireless on the Voices Have Power campaign to tell those who are still in abusive relationships – who often feel very isolated – that there are people here for them, that there are people who care, people they don’t even know. That kind of support and encouragement can be very helpful to people who feel isolated.

Voices Have Power is a great example of how technology can be an enabler, such as by making it easier for victims and survivors to get help and support.

It does exactly that. Also, social media is such an important means of peer education, the most powerful kind of learning. It’s why peer reviews of products on Amazon, for example, are so important. People look at reviews from their friends and neighbors and give more credibility to those reviews. There’s a power in peer education and information.

An example is the recent #WhyIStayed [discussion] that has created an enormous amount of education and understanding across Twitter, Facebook and other platforms in response to that old saw that we’re all so tired of: “Why didn’t she leave?” One woman, Beverly Gooden, started it. All it took was for her to say: “I’m so tired of hearing this. I’m going to tell you why I stayed.” Then other people chimed in with #WhyILeft.

Now people are starting to use #HowIHelped, saying what they have done as bystanders or as volunteers or as supporters of local shelters. We are beginning to turn the revelations of #WhyIStayed into ways that people can help and be supportive. The technology aspect of that makes it possible to receive support from people you don’t even know.

In the past, if you wanted to build awareness of something, you went on Today or Oprah because you knew it would reach a lot of people. But today’s media marketplace is so fragmented. Mobile and social networking are a way to get the word out.

Technology is so critically important now in a way that it wasn’t 10 years ago. In 2004, I was president of the National Organization of Women, and social networking was really in its infancy.  As you were saying, if you wanted to get the word out about something, you tried to get on Oprah or the Today Show, or get AP to send something out on the wire or send millions of pieces of direct mail.

The March for Women’s Lives in 2004 was the largest ever: 1.15 million. I was one of the six organizers, and it was mostly organized through direct mail. I often think, “What will it educating and organizing people be like 10 years from now?” We won’t recognize it.

Many people are aware that they can donate their old mobile devices to help domestic violence survivors. What are some other ways that mobile is helping?

It gives you access to information on the go. Even something as simple as being in a different town when you’ve been abused or injured. You can dial 911, of course, but if you’re trying to drive to the nearest hospital, you put it into your phone GPS, and you’re now able to drive to the closest hospital. Or to look up the number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline. You don’t have to program it or memorize it. You can look it up on your smartphone.

A mobile phone is like safety in your pocket. It’s not a guarantee of safety, but it certainly increases your ability to be safer: to reach out to others, to figure out where you are, and to go where you need to be.

If you’re looking for additional ways to speak out against domestic violence, you can submit messages of hope to victims and survivors through Verizon’s Because Voices Have Power campaign. Add your voice to the conversation by submitting a message of hope online at, sending a text to 94079 or through social media using the hashtag #VoicesHavePower.