A hidden mobile app offers a safer alternative for women in Serbia to report violence
Even before the pandemic, reporting domestic violence was difficult and dangerous for survivors. Abusers often monitor and limit access to communication channels – but existing reporting mechanisms generally require survivors to communicate by phone or text, which can be difficult to conceal and, if discovered, can put women at even greater risk. In addition to mobility restrictions and closures, these already critical barriers have become insurmountable for many women.
The Vojvodina SOS Network therefore set out to create a safer road. In the framework of the European Union-funded UN Women’s regional program “Eliminating violence against women in the Western Balkans and Türkiye: Implementing norms, changing mindsets”, a mobile application was developed through which women could report violence and seek help – and which it was disguised. to prevent abusers from being detected.
The app’s utility goes far beyond locks. Today, anyone in Serbia with a smartphone and internet access can use it to report ongoing or past violence against themselves or someone else. Available in Serbian, English and Romani, it is accessible for people with disabilities and compatible with mobile reader/writer/audio programs.
By pressing the SOS button, users can call the nearest support organization or choose to contact an organization they already know or trust. The app also has a live chat feature that allows women to connect with staff at the nearest organization for psychosocial support, counseling and referrals to additional services.
“The biggest motivation was to create something new, innovative and exclusively for women,” says Biljana Stepanov, President of the Vojvodina SOS Network. “The biggest challenge and the biggest motivation was for women to decide for themselves how and with whom to contact in the event of violence.”
When women report violence through the app, the time and place of the report, as well as other data provided by the survivor, are recorded in a software system called the Integrated Information System. This system is the first of its kind in Serbia, with an unprecedented ability to connect multiple service providers and generate large amounts of data.
Better data collection enables women’s organizations not only to provide better services to women, but to advocate for their causes and for wider action to end violence against women and girls. It also makes it easier to review and compare data across time periods—crucial for measuring changes in the prevalence of different types of violence.
Currently used by 13 women’s organizations across the country, the app had roughly 500 active users in October 2022. For survivors who have nowhere to turn, it continues to be a source of support and hope: “[It sends] the message to women that there is a way out,” says Biljana. “They are not alone.”