One in four Australian women has experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner. One in four.
Yet be it due to stigma, to fear of retaliation or not being believed, Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows that more than 80 per cent of these women don’t report that violence to police and 39 per cent had never sought any kind of advice or support.
It’s figures like these that have prompted online legal service LawPath to create Deevi, an anonymous web-based program that uses artificial intelligence to provide victims with information about available support services, their rights and how the law can protect them.
Speaking to Mamamia, LawPath co-founder Dominic Woolrych said the program is built on IBM Watson, a sophisticated AI system that allows users to have real-time, natural-language conversation with the Deevi ‘chatbot’.
The bot asks the user questions about what’s occurring in their relationship and then delivers appropriate information based on their responses.
“What Deevi does is pick up key words in the conversation and then run those key words against domestic violence legislation,” Woolrych explained. “At a very high level, she can come back and determine whether domestic violence might be present and then give you action plans about what you can do, how to protect yourself and most importantly, point you in the right direction.”
There is no risk of not being believed – Woolrych says users will always be directed to face-to-face services, regardless of what Deevi interprets from its conversation with them.
Born from a LawPath internship program, Deevi was created to bridge the gap between domestic violence victims and the (notably under-resourced) support services available to them.
"As we started looking into the social justice angles of domestic violence, what we found was that there is a bit of a disconnect between people and information about domestic violence," Woolrych said.
"To actually take that first step and go and visit a drop-in centre or a police station can be huge for victims. And often they're a little bit unsure about what domestic violence is, about if what's happening to them constitutes domestic violence. So we started to think about that and we thought how could we help."
Rosie Batty talks responses to domestic violence. (Post continues below.)
When building the program, Woolrych said ensuring anonymity and confidentiality of its users was central. Conversations are automatically deleted at the end, and nothing you type in is stored.
"What we found through our research was that victims often live with the people that are perpetrating the violence against them, so searching things on Google can be risky," he said.
"Deevi is completely confidential. So you don't have to put in any identifying information. You can have the conversation with Deevi and she doesn't know who you are, and she doesn't mind who you are either. We do ask some information about you and your background [age, gender, sexual orientation, for example], but the purpose of that is simply to direct you to the best service."
Deevi is still in it's infancy - it was only launched on August 2 - but the nature of the IBM Watson system means that the more people that use it, the more powerful and intuitive it will become.
Of course, Woolrych appreciates that domestic violence is always going to be more complex, more sensitive than a computer program could possibly understand. But Deevi's role, he stresses, is simply to introduce victims to people that can.
"This is not intended to be a replacement for those fantastic services out there - not at all. It's about directing people to them in a more efficient manner," he said.
"If someone can jump on their phone and get a little bit more information about how the process works, be encouraged to go in, be given the address, be given the opening times, well, that's what Deevi is meant to be doing."
If you are experiencing domestic violence, 24-hour crisis support is available via 1800 RESPECT. If you are in immediate danger, always call 000.