Victims can talk to a psychologist on the 'cosmetics' shop by making it appear they are conversing with a salesperson.
The coronavirus pandemic has led to a sharp rise in domestic violence cases with people spending more time indoors. One Polish high school student decided to do something about it. Krystyna Paszko created a fake cosmetics shop on Facebook to enable victims to report abuse without their abusers knowing about it. The 18-year-old student's idea has been lauded and even won her a European Union prize that came with a cash prize of $12,000. Paszko says she was inspired by a French pharmacist shop. "First, I heard about the increase in domestic violence cases during the pandemic. Then I heard about a French initiative, where people go to the pharmacy and ask for a special mask that lets the pharmacist know they are a victim of domestic violence," said Paszko, reported BBC. "I thought it was a brilliant idea, so I came up with the idea of selling cosmetics."
Talking in code
She got down to work and launched the fake online website titled "Camomiles and Pansies" in April. It was set up as an online shop that sold cosmetics but the idea was to encourage people to request help while appearing to shop online. While the people appeared to be talking to a salesperson, in reality, they were interacting with a psychologist. The victims would be asked how long "skin problems" had been going on, or how their skin reacted to alcohol. These code words helped people communicate their situation without alerting their abuser. When people made a purchase and left an address, it's actually code for a request to authorities to visit their home.
"It became really popular"
Krystyna Paszko had envisioned the online shop as a way to help her extended friends circle but she was flooded with responses when she posted the idea online. "I thought it would only be for my friends, and friends of friends. I thought I would help maybe one person or two, but the shares on Facebook were big and it became really popular," said Paszko. In no time, she was contacted by the Women's Rights Centre, a Polish NGO, seeking to collaborate on the idea by providing psychologists and lawyers to work with the website. More than 350 people have contacted the 'shop' since its inception with a majority of the victims being under 40. Ten percent of the victims were male, mostly teenagers. "More younger women prefer to write on Facebook than to call on the phone, it's more natural for younger women to use Facebook chat. Most of the men writing to us are teenagers," she said.
Paszko was very aware of the extent of domestic violence as a problem because of her interest in human rights. "For many years I've been interested in human and women's rights, and because of that I read about the increase in domestic violence and wanted to do this. Before, I had created my scouting page. Scouting taught me how important it is to help others and to be interested in the world around me," she said. The idea was one of 23 projects to receive the EU's Civil Solidarity Prize and a cash prize for its role in tackling the consequences of the pandemic. Domestic abuse has been a major fallout of the pandemic with the UN labeling the problem as a "shadow pandemic."
Pszko's idea was more even important in Poland considering the government's stance on domestic abuse. Last July, Poland's Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro said the country should withdraw from the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence because it threatened the traditional family model. The "family model" has always been used as a cover-up for domestic abuse and with the Polish government's official stance on the matter, Paszko's initiative could save countless lives and people from a lifetime of trauma. The president of the Women's Rights Centre, Urszula Nowakowska, lauded Paszko and said she was "very impressed" by her project.
If you are being subjected to domestic abuse or know of anyone else who is, please visit The National Domestic Violence Hotline website, call 1-800-799-7233, or text LOVEIS to 22522.