New app helps rape victims get help fast

An app called Vimba! has now made it easier for victims and survivors of sexual abuse in Diepsloot to access help.

A study done by Sonke Gender Justice in partnership with the School of Public Health at the University of the Witswatersrand found that more than half the men – 56% – in Diepsloot have abused a woman sexually or physically in the past year.

The study, Sonke Change Trial, which was conducted in the township this year, also found that of the men who admitted to being abusive, most (60.2%) said they had been violent towards a woman more than once.

Of the 2 600 men aged between 18 and 40 interviewed, 52% believed that their partners should always agree to sex and 70% thought they should be able to control the clothes a woman wears, the friends she sees or where she goes.

Diepsloot has one of the worst gender-based violence statistics and for this reason has been targeted to help alleviate this crisis.

“Some women don’t know where to go for help after being violated, with this app at least they will be able to reach psychologists, social workers, lawyers, and be able to open a case,” says Sonke Gender Justice project manager Dumisani Rebombo.

Rebombo says that although the app comes at a crucial time, society also has to think past things like 16 Days of Activism where there seems to be the most attention around sexual violence.

“We need to think of how we can be safe beyond 16 Days and ensure we hold government accountable. We need to move beyond activism campaigns and not be boggled down to them in order to act and do something for women and children,” he said.

The app, funded by Bhekisisa, works by a user dialling *134*403# from their cell phone and needs no data to access or download.

A server is then notified to send a series of three drop-down menus, asking the user which extension of Diepsloot they’re and what sort of help they need (whether for themselves or someone else).

An SMS will then be sent to the user’s phone containing the phone numbers and addresses of the organisations in Diepsloot that help victims of gender-based violence, as well as the numbers of the police and ambulance service.

If they indicated that they have been raped, an SMS containing five things to remember (e.g. not to destroy evidence) is also sent to them.

The app also functions as a means of collecting data. It can collate things such as the date and time of day users dialled the helpline, where in Diepsloot they are and what sort of help they need — which in turn will be used to identify trends in gender-based violence in the area.

Rebombo says this is to contribute to the ongoing five years’ research and intervention work in Diepsloot.

The Green Door, Sonke Gender Justice, Lawyers Against Abuse, Afrika Tikkun and the South African Depression and Anxiety Group have all been involved in developing the app.

The Vimba helpline app has been available since November 25 and was officially launched on November 30 at Sonke Gender Justice’s offices in Diepsloot. It will initially be available in English but isiZulu and Sepedi translations will be added.

* In IsiZulu, Vimba means to prevent, stop or halt.

Ndileka Lujabe
City Press
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