Sunday, May 10, 2009

How FrontlineSMS is being used to help victims of domestic violence in my small Oklahoma town

I only recently became involved with the FrontlineSMS project as an addition to a national project my company, OpenEMR HQ, is doing with a small African country. But, since discovering the software, I've been busily thinking of good ways it could be put to use by organizations in my own community and I've come up with a few I believe are viable. Today, I want to share one of those ideas and how we're going to use FrontlineSMS as a tool to help combat violence against women in the United States, specifically, in the small community of Miami, Oklahoma.

Every year, millions of American women face domestic violence at the hands of those that are supposed to love and protect them. These women often feel powerless and suffer continued abuse without ever reaching out because they either don't know the resources are out there or because they're scared nothing will be done to their abusers if they do come forward thereby encouraging even more abuse. Community crisis centers serve as a front line of defense in these situations often shuttling abused women out of dangerous situations and into safe houses, interfacing with police to make sure victims get the services and protection they need, and providing the much needed emotional support those who've escaped violent situations are so desperately in need of.

Unfortunately, none of those things can be offered until the victim reaches out and getting abused women to take the first step can be a large part of the battle. Many women don't think or have a safe way to catalog the abuse, don't know how to report it, and don't want calls to crisis numbers showing up on the mobile phone bill. The end result is the complete isolation of these women from any help at all.

As I've been playing around with FrontlineSMS, I've been thinking about ways it could be used to address these situations and I'm slowly starting to piece together a system called CPR that I hope to soon have deployed locally as a test bed for a larger, maybe statewide system.

The basic idea is to give women a quick, easy, and safe way to report and catalog abuse, and reach out for either police or crisis worker help, all without ever making a traceable phone call. Piecing together a system that consist of a laptop running FrontlineSMS, a mobile phone, and a few PHP scripts sitting on an Internet connection, I'm creating a system where women can send messages to various help authorities or just record instances of abuse for later use in court.

For example:

C <A message that she wants to send to a crisis counselor>
P <A message she wants to send to a police officer>
R <A message she wants to be recorded for later use in court detailing an abusive incident>


Using the CPR system, women in dangerous situations can quietly and safely reach out for help when a phone call simply isn't possible. Using FrontlineSMS will allow both police and crisis agencies to have two way communication with the victim thereby ensuring the communication loop is never broken.

Since I'm still developing the system, I've not yet deployed an installation of it yet but I've been getting great feedback from various agencies I've spoken to. Eventually, I'd like to implement a way for victims to send pictures, video, and audio, and have it automatically attached to their case file within the CPR system for later use in court. That will come later and probably with some community help.

None of this would be possible without FrontlineSMS. While I am a professional software developer, I probably would never have developed a system like FrontlineSMS and the fact that it's available as open source makes it incredibly accessible.

I'll be sure to keep everyone up to date on how this project is coming as it progresses. I'll also be sure to blog about how we're using FrontlineSMS in our Vision Africa project being launched very soon. Until then, feel free to send your feedback or make comments to this post. You can reach me directly by email at anthonyp@openemrhq.com.

2 comments:

kiwanja said...

Thanks for sharing this with us,, Anthony. It's a hugely laudable project and a great use of simple SMS technology.

Looking forward to keeping up-to-date with how this goes. It could be a great model for other, similar, projects.

Ken

BSK said...

Sounds great Anthony! Hope the integration of pictures, video/ audio goes fine; would love to make use of that in future.