As part of International Women's Day, SIX is highlighting a number of brilliant women who are leading in their field.
We spoke with Stephanie Atkins, who is working with Women's Aid to develop a digital advice service for girls who feel threatened by a partner. #IDW2017
Can you tell me a bit more about what you do and what inspired you to do this work?
I spent my career in the charity sector, working for inspiring international and UK-based organisations that champion the rights of women and girls and speak out against violence, abuse, discrimination and inequality. I now work in the communications team at Women’s Aid, the national domestic abuse charity in England. I spend my days writing and developing content to raise awareness about domestic abuse.
We have known for some time that vital information about domestic abuse just isn’t reaching young people, or resonating with them. Our consultations with young survivors of abuse have revealed that they often tried to deal with abusive behaviour on their own for a long time, unsure if what they were experiencing was abusive, or just part of a ‘passionate adult relationship’. They often turned to friends or searched online for advice and support, but found it difficult to know which advice they could trust.
Recent research by Girlguiding UK revealed that one in eight 17 to 21 year-olds surveyed (13%) said that a boyfriend/girlfriend has made them feel frightened or threatened. One in ten stayed in a relationship in which their partner has made them feel unsafe, and 40% of teenage girls are coerced into sex acts by their boyfriends.
From the survivors we spoke to, it was only when the abuse became more severe - sexually or physically - that they felt their experiences were valid enough to qualify for help from specialist services and the police. We want to change this.
Since September 2016, I have been leading on the development of a new digital advice service for 13-18 year -old girls. The project has been developed with support from the CAST Fuse programme, a three month intensive accelerator for charities that emphasises a user-centred design approach. The new service will:
- Offer advice from Women’s Aid experts in easy to understand language that young women can understand;
- Curate content from young survivors of abuse who want to share their experiences to give more young women the confidence to reach out for help
- Give users the option to share their own opinions on positive and abusive behaviour, and view comments from other young women to raise awareness and emphasise that they are not alone
- Produce a national dataset that will improve responses to young women and relationship education across the Violence Against Women and Girls Sector.
Can you tell us about a defining moment where you could see the impact of your project? What are you most proud of in your work?
I am most proud of the fact that the voices of young women have been at the heart of this project from the beginning. We interviewed young survivors of abuse, mapping their needs, wants and the challenges they faced to identify how we could get help to them sooner. They are now coming together to form a digital advisory board for the project and to help write content to encourage other young women to seek help sooner.
We have also been conducting face-to-face workshops, engaging 150 girls aged 13 to18 from schools in across England, exploring how they use technology and look for help.
Giving girls the space to ask questions, share their ideas and lead the development of the service so far has been extremely rewarding, and fills me with confidence that we will be able to get help and support to more young women in their first relationships.
What is your hope in relation to social innovation in the future? How will your work contribute to this hope?
Through the CAST Fuse accelerator programme, I was given the opportunity to collaborate with many inspiring and talented people from the start-up world. There is so much we can learn from one another, and my hope for the future is that we can continue to create opportunities and spaces for these collaborations to take place. We are already looking at ways we can embed a user-centred design approach across other projects within Women’s Aid, putting into practice our commitment to being a survivor-led organisation.
You can follow Steph on Twitter here.