Research tells how online searches can predict cases of domestic violence

A study found that Google searches can act as an effective tool to track domestic violence, especially during a crisis time. The study suggests that some search keywords can predict such incidents, which may eventually help the authorities to tackle such incidents over time.

In 2020, lockdowns were imposed by countries due to the outbreak of the unprecedented coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. During the lockdown, multiple reports emerged indicating that the rate of domestic violence has increased.

Even before the pandemic, data showed all types of violence against women and girls. However, such incidents intensified during the pandemic.

Now, a study just published in the European Journal of Population finds that Google searches are an effective tool to track and predict domestic violence. The study refers to the times of crisis, such as the period that followed the Covid outbreak.

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The study mentions that the scholars previously did not have reliable data sources to track the phenomenon. But now, scholars such as Selin Koksal, a PhD Candidate in Public Policy at Bocconi University in Milan specializing in population and gender, have a better understanding of the issue.

Scholars analysed the relations between Google searches for nine domestic violence-related keywords. On one hand, they analysed calls to the Italian domestic violence helpline 1522 and to the emergency number 112 in Lombardy on the other.

Reports mentioned that Koksal teamed up with former PhD colleague Ebru Sanliturk (Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research) and consulted former Bocconi scholar Valentina Rotondi (SUPSI and the University of Oxford).

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The keywords were: 1522 (the domestic violence helpline number in Italy), abuse (abuso), home & abuse (casa & abuso), home & rape (casa & stupro), feminicide (femminicidio), rape (stupro), domestic violence (violenza domestica), gender-based violence (violenza di genere), and sexual violence (violenza sessuale).

Researchers found that only after the Covid outbreak, there is a positive and significant correlation between searches for four keywords (1522, abuse, domestic violence and sexual violence) and calls to the emergency number.

Koksal said, “Forecasts proved more reliable among high socio-economic status population. Because they are better than other socioeconomic strata at googling effectively in this context. It may be the case that individuals with lower socio-economic status use dialect or less targeted keywords , which could prevent them from reaching accurate online resources for seeking help. ”

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