In 2019, StandbyU Foundation received a grant from the Commonwealth Government Department of Social Services to trial 100 digital safety watches (referred to as StandbyU Shields) with women experiencing high to low risk family and domestic violence. The trial forms part of the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children and took place over 12 months.
The StandbyU Shield creates a secret and secure way for people at risk to stay connected to their friends, family, case workers and police. A simple click of a button on the smartwatch activates an alert, allowing the chosen support network to listen in, locate the person at risk and organise help, whilst also recording what's taking place, so that it can be used as evidence against the perpetrator.
MAJOR FINDINGS FROM THE TRIAL
THE STANDBYU SHIELD INCREASED THE FAMILY'S SAFETY
Safety is both physical and psychological. Feeling unsafe can be as damaging to our long-term health as being physically harmed by someone, and so it is important that solutions address both issues.
As a case worker on the trial explained, "For lots of them, they actually have achieved physical safety but they don’t feel safe and it can sometimes take years and years for that feeling of safety to catch up with actual safety."
93% of participants agreed having the safety watch significantly increased their safety.
By putting control in their hands, it enabled women to feel less anxious about the unseen threat of abuse - and finally feel safe.
It makes me feel safer and less anxious, because I know that if I press the button then somebody can hear what is happening or can see where my last location is, so I feel less anxious because I know that somebody will send help.
EMOTIONAL WELLBEING AND MENTAL HEALTH IMPROVED
Building a support network around the person in need helped them not only feel safer, but also more connected to people who care, creating new or strengthened positive relationships.
Feeling believed, safe and supported gave them increased peace of mind, helped them feel less isolated and created confidence to share their experiences with the people in their support group.
"My family has come in like a strong support for me. Now they understand what we have gone through... I feel emotionally safer.”
Having the StandbyU Shield has given me lots more strength... It gives me a little bit more strength to say I am safe, I am leaving, I am getting out of here.
WOMEN AND CHILDREN WERE ABLE TO ENJOY MORE FREEDOM
The wearable and hidden nature of the safety device and women's confidence in the timeliness of the response to an alert meant they had increased confidence to participate in the community.
For some women this meant letting their children play outside again, whilst others were able to do simple activities like grocery shopping or attend social events in the community.
"It just gives me my freedom back to freely choose what I want to do, where I want to go.”
This freedom and autonomy is a key part of long-term recovery from abuse, social participation and personal wellbeing.
My 8-year-old has learnt to swim, ride a bike, she [is] not scared, [and is] eating food now... she is happier... It has given us more freedom, and it has given us more safety out.
SUPPORT SERVICES WERE MORE COLLABORATIVE AND EFFECTIVE
The process of helping people reach out to friends and family, share their worries and ask for support, also changed the relationship between the case worker and person in need. They reported a more collaborative experience and increase in engagement from the impacted families.
"When family or women are given something which they can hold and use instantly, it actually makes people feel listened to."
There was also greater collaboration reported with other support services, as the planning process revolved more fully around the impacted family and StandbyU Shield.
DV impacts the whole family and that’s why I believe it makes real sense within a family support services. That is, the perspectives of all family members are considered, their needs and worries, goals and hopes and dreams are considered. That’s really unique within a family support space not just DV space.
RECORDED EVIDENCE INCREASED CONFIDENCE TO SPEAK UP
Domestic abuse is often hidden, with a key tactic of the perpetrator being an apparently calm and charming public face. This can leave the person being abused feeling concerned that they won't be believed if they do reach out for help.
"He even said to me in the past [when] I am going to call the police, he says ‘go ahead and no one will listen to you, they are not going to believe you'."
With the smart watch’s discreet recording function, women and children reported feeling more confident to share their experiences with others. It also gave them the evidence to take further legal action if they chose to pursue it.
I think it is a very good idea because from my experience of DV, a lot of the time women believe if they have the evidence of recording what happens to them then they know they will be believed.
PERPETRATOR BEHAVIOUR WAS EXPOSED AND CHANGED
The trial also found that the ability to record and expose the abuser's behaviour caused them to reconsider their actions and helped prevent escalations.
"He was really hurting him… And once [he] realised that I had pushed that button, he pretty well stopped what he was doing."
When the abuse is hidden in nature, exposure to the social group can be enough to stop the behaviour, whilst in some cases, the intervention to de-escalate the situation was actually 'covert' with the first responder calling or turning up in a timely way.
He can’t behave the way he has been before. He is going to have to find different ways to manage his own behaviour.
CONNECTION BETWEEN PEOPLE IN THE COMMUNITY INCREASED
The feeling of social isolation often remains long after the person at risk has 'escaped' the abuser. By creating a secure and safe way for others to support them, women felt more confident to connect, and share their story, with friends and family.
“It helped connect with people. I have met the neighbours, they are lovely people and they are hopefully coming for Christmas as well.”
This feeling of connection within the community is important for long-term mental health and recovery, as well as safety.
I definitely feel that it has made us all closer because it has made us talk about [it] and work out what is going to happen.
400 COMMUNITY BYSTANDERS BECAME FIRST RESPONDERS
The strength of the solution lies in the commitment - the promise - the support network makes to the person at risk to be there for them when they need it. To ensure safety, responders received training on how to provide the assistance needed, whether it be reassurance, intervention or escalation to emergency services.
“For her, it is her personal safety, and for me that peace of mind that I know she could contact me if she needs.”
The solution empowered friends and family to provide practical help, knowing that they and their loved one would be safe.
My mum hears and she just comes in. She turns up and you know it stops him. As soon as somebody else turns up he can’t keep going on doing what he has been doing, because there is a witness.
WEARABLE TECHNOLOGY ENABLED A SAFE, TIMELY RESPONSE
Technology has received a lot of negative attention as an aide for abuse, enabling perpetrators to track and intimidate their victims.
The StandbyU Shield is different. It creates a secure network that the abuser cannot access, shielding the individual and their supporters from harm and giving them a safe way to stay in touch.
"They were really concerned especially with this impending move of my ex-partner and now it is like ‘you have got a watch dog on your wrist and we can be there within minutes’."
The watch has a normal look. My ex-partner thinks it is a Fitbit type, he did not pay any attention, he's got something similar and thinks I have got one of those.
ONLY 1 OUT OF 100 PARTICIPANTS REQUIRED POLICE ASSISTANCE
It is hard to predict how an abusive person will act, which is why it is important those at risk can connect with people who can help. The trial showed that this does not always need to be the police. Friends and family can de-escalate many situations, and provide reassurance.
"Having the watch means I can just press the alarm and other people can get in contact with the police for me, so this is very reassuring. I feel a lot more secure having the watch now."
By making friends and family first responders, emergency services are freed up to look after more serious community issues, responding only when they are needed and can make a real difference.