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Fighting And Documenting Sexual Violence In Congo And Kenya With A Mobile App – Forbes

Fighting And Documenting Sexual Violence In Congo And Kenya With A Mobile App – Forbes

ASSOCIATED PRESS

When it comes to sexual violence, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are among the most dangerous places in the world. In Kenya, fourteen percent of women and six percent of men aged 15-49 report having experienced sexual violence at least once in their lifetime (the percentage goes up to 45 and 44 percent respectively, if generic ‘physical violence’ is considered).

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which has notoriously been described as the “rape capital of the world”, fares even worse: the United Nations estimates that around 200,000 Congolese women have been raped in the 1998-2013 period.

Wars and conflicts are the main culprits, but the issue is aggravated by psychological, cultural, infrastructural and organizational barriers.

Victims are often reluctant to report sexual violence because they don’t trust the judiciary or because they don’t want to be stigmatized. Vital information is not always shared across different stakeholders: clinicians, police officers, lawyers, and judges, due to silo mentality, or simple distrust. The forms used to document medical evidence of sexual violence are usually available only in paper format, not properly stored and can therefore be easily lost, damaged or stolen.

Technology can’t do much to solve the first two issues, but it can contribute to addressing the third one. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), a U.S.-based international NGO has joined forces up with New York-based Main Street Computing to create MediCapt, a smartphone application for Android devices that can streamline the very unpleasant but necessary task of properly reporting the violence.

MediCapt.Physicians for Human Rights

“We have just launched MediCapt with patients in Kenya in close partnership with clinicians and government officials there. Our next step is to support the launch of MediCapt in new health facilities in Kenya. Additionally, we are planning to go live with patients in DRC in the coming months,” PHR’s director of the Program on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones, Karen Naimer, tells me.

How does it work? MediCapt combines a custom-designed medical intake form (known in Kenya as Post Rape Care form, or PRC) with secure mobile camera functionalities for forensic photography. The concept evolved over time; initially, it was just a digital replica of the paper PRC forms used by doctors in Kenya.

After the prototype’s testing and based on the feedback given by eight Congolese physicians, the first “pilot customers”, it was decided to create a more intuitive user interface and include a secured camera, to provide forensic evidence of sexual violence, and also add new functionalities, such as a writable pictogram.

Being stored in the cloud, the evidence cannot be easily destroyed, or tampered with. To achieve this, however, the problem of the lack of connectivity in many interested areas, had to be bypassed in some way. First of all, Naimer explains, “clinicians are able to complete the fields on MediCapt without Wi-Fi connectivity.” The data are then securely stored on the device, in encrypted form, and transmitted in small chunks as soon as a connection is available.

In some cases, paper versions may still be the best option. Clinicians can print them directly from the app via Bluetooth, from device to device and  not through the internet; this is instrumental to make sure that no sensitive data is transmitted and that the chain of custody of the evidence is preserved. These paper copies of the form can then be distributed to the victims, law enforcement, and prosecutors.

Screenshots of the app.Physicians for Human Rights

MediCapt is currently available in French and English. According to Naimer, the app is designed to be adapted for use in multiple countries and languages. “Our goal is to take MediCapt to scale to new locations to ensure that it reaches a wide number of medical service providers who can use the app to better support survivors of sexual violence,” she says.

In principle, the app is designed to support any number of languages or national forensic forms, allowing the app to be useable in any legal jurisdiction.

As it happens with most cloud-based innovations, an interesting by-product of MediCapt is that, by aggregating and analyzing high volumes of de-identified data, it could help activitists and researchers discover recurring ‘patterns’ of violence. Not only highlighting the time and geolocation of crimes, but also, by combining this information with other data regarding military and militia activity, shedding a light on the people or groups responsible.

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