The Rise of Chatbots Against Gender-Based Violence Event Report

Utilizing a common tool to tackle gender-based violence in different contexts, five chatbot teams from the UK, Botswana, India, Thailand, and Australia, came together to discuss ethical and cultural implications of the technology and share essential insights on making chatbot a sustainable solution for GBV survivors.

On Tuesday, 16th November 2021, TIJ Justice Innovation and the Working Group on Law and Technology (WGLT) as a part of the Global Forum on Law, Justice and Development of the World Bank co-hosted a webinar on ‘The Rise of Chatbot Against Gender-Based Violence’. The webinar aims to kickstart a community of chatbots that are working on the issue of gender-based violence around the world to share their best practices, know-hows, and challenges, and to collaborate to make chatbots a tool that can efficiently tackle the prominent global issue of GBV. 

The webinar welcomed five panelists representing five different chatbots operating in various parts of the world. MySis, from Thailand, promotes multi-stakeholders collaboration to educate users on their legal options and allow for online case filing, utilizing their unique alliance with the Cyber Crime Investigation Bureau of the Royal Thai Police. AME bridges the gap between service seekers and service providers in Botswana by increasing coverage through and connecting to in-person psychological support, with a long-term goal to develop predictive solutions to GBV. While based in India, Saahas, a chatbot that is established managed by a sole feminist entrepreneur, shares resources for seeking help in 196 countries. Hello Cass provides access to localized and accurate information SMS in Australia. Built by an AI-solutions company in England, rAInbow operates in South Africa to give support and help users recognize violence.

“Human interactions are still important, because essentially every survivor needs a safespace, comfort, and someone to listen to them” – Leloba Lijane, AME

The first half of the discussion was on the topic of ethical concerns and cultural implications to tie into the theme of LJD Week that year: Law, Racial Equity and Development. Hello Cass shared that adopting SMS as the home of their platform allowed them to provide equitable accessibility and reach a wide audience without any expense. However, the interactions through SMS could be slow. Furthermore, in some cultures where conversing with a chatbot was unfamiliar, human interactions were still essential to seamlessly integrate technology into survivors’ support systems. Having counselors contacting chatbot users to follow-up and provide psychosocial support, AME was also able to reduce language barriers for users who spoke languages other than English.

“We put a lot of thought into the design of the actual logo, colors and the name because you have to make it as vague as possible. The last thing we want is to bring any unnecessary suspicion from the perpetrators” – Alice Piterova, rAInbow

Privacy was one of the major concerns all chatbot developers acknowledged and must handle. Employing privacy by design, rAInbow highlighted that privacy wasn’t limited to how data was handled, but also how the product was designed. rAInbow’s interface purposely appeared vague to not alarm the perpetrators, if they saw the users browsing on the website. Hosting their chatbot on Facebook Messenger, rAInbow also pointed out that Facebook didn’t allow chatbots to collect users’ information. However, the privacy policies of social media sites were always being revised and updated, thus the chatbot must keep up. On the other hand, Saahas provided their service on multiple mediums to diversify the risk and allow users to choose using the medium that they felt comfortable using.

The chatbot developers shared challenges and lessons learned on organizational and management models in the second half of the discussion. Many challenges were commonly identified, namely, lack of funding, technological support, and control and monitoring over collaborators such as local service providers and NGOs. The chatbots discussed various operational models, such as social enterprise like rAInbow, that would allow the chatbots to maintain sustainability and scalability, as well as potential fundraising models that adopt blockchain or NFTs to reach a wider audience, but would require an expansive global effort. Moreover, evaluation was another difficulty that many chatbots were confronted with as they struggled to find methods to accurately and meaningfully capture the impacts their chatbots had made.

“I wouldn’t say a chatbot is a 100% solution. Humans are learning from technology, while technology is also learning from us, to close the gap between one another” – Kirthi Jayakumar, Saahas

Bringing GBV chatbots together from different parts of the world, the webinar generated rich and insightful discussions among passionate developers who showed much enthusiasm. Establishing the floor where GBV chatbot developers could share their struggles and experiences empowered the chatbots with resources and a sense of community to remind them that they were not alone. There will be small group discussions coming up in the near future where the GBV chatbot developers can dig deeper in various aspects of the chatbots and continue the conversations. Stay tuned!

Watch a recording of the webinar here.

Share this article: