Our cause

Getting amazon to listen

Domestic violence. It happens behind closed doors. Behind thick walls. Out of the public eye. Most victims of domestic violence are women who are all alone in their time of need. No one can hear them and call for help. But Amazon could change that – with its Echo voice assistant.

The problem is that while Echo is constantly listening, it only responds to certain trigger words – and its response is not exactly discreet. That’s why we developed our own voice assistant: Echo of Help. It discreetly responds to any set wake word and sends a self-selected silent alarm to pre-defined contacts.

But Echo of Help is just a prototype. It is proof of how useful this type of extended function is. And above all, a call for action for Amazon to fight domestic violence. Help add weight to this call for action: share our campaign with the hashtag #EchoOfHelp.

#EchoOfHelp against domestic violence

How you can help

German National Committee for UN Women

How Echo of Help can make a difference

Echo of Help and domestic violence

Facts, questions and answers

Every three days

According to the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), a total of 146 women died in 2016 as a result of violence
perpetrated by their current or former intimate partners.

What is domestic violence?

The organisation, bff: Frauen gegen Gewalt e.V., a federal association of rape crisis centres and women’s counselling centres in Germany, defines the term ‘domestic violence’ as violence by current or former spouses or partners. More information.

How many of the victims are women?

The number of female victims of domestic violence at last check was 108,956. That represents 81.9% of the total number of victims.

Why are women frequently victims of domestic violence?

One woman is killed by her current or former intimate partner every three days. In Germany. Domestic violence remains a taboo subject despite the high rate of prevalence. Women rarely address the issue due to fear, shame, feelings of guilt. Violence against women happens behind closed doors. Hardly anyone dares to intervene, and much of it simply goes unnoticed. The often unequal nature of power dynamics in relationships is another factor that makes it difficult for women to ‘just leave’.

Is the number of victims dropping?

Unfortunately not. Domestic violence against women has been increasing constantly in past years. Compared to the previous year, 2016 saw this figure rise by 4.5%.

How much of the violence is of a sexual nature?

Over 2,500 cases of rape and sexual assault were reported in 2016. But these were just the instances in current or former intimate relationships that were reported. The actual figure is likely to be much higher.

Does alcohol play a role?

Approximately 25.7% of all alleged male perpetrators in 2016 were under the influence of alcohol.

Where can women find help?

Women should confide in someone and ask for help. As an initial professional starting point we recommend the ‘Gewalt gegen Frauen’ (Violence against Women) hotline, an advice line for women throughout Germany who have experienced or are still experiencing violence. The hotline number is 08000 116 016. Online advice is also available at www.hilfetelefon.de. Advice is provided to victims on an anonymous and confidential basis. The hotline also advises friends and relatives of victims. It operates 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, in 17 languages as well as German sign language.

What can I as an individual do to fight domestic violence?

You can do a lot: you can pay attention to what’s going on around you. You can try to talk with a victim about their situation or point them in the right direction for help. You can intervene and/or call the police if you witness an incident. You can help the underfunded support system by donating to women’s shelters, for example.

What is UN Women doing to fight domestic violence?

UN Women is fighting around the world for women to enjoy a life free of violence, sexism and discrimination. In Germany we are calling on the newly formed Federal Government to strengthen its overall approach to preventing violence against women, protecting victims and improving support. Germany committed itself to this cause when it ratified the Istanbul Convention.

What is the Federal Government doing?

When the Istanbul Convention came into force at the beginning of this year, Germany committed itself to doing everything it could, even in future, to fight violence against women. This international treaty is a Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.

How can I support the work of UN Women?

You can support the work of the German National Committee for UN Women by becoming a member or donating to the cause. Simply visit the website www.unwomen.de. We also encourage you to become an advocate for gender equality in your personal and professional life.

What are the economic effects of domestic violence?

First and foremost, our focus is on the human right of women to enjoy a life free of violence. But domestic violence does have economic consequences as well. It is estimated that domestic violence costs the Federal Republic of Germany around 14.5 billion euros every year. Physical injuries and mental or emotional trauma can be so severe that victims may become restricted in their ability to work or may even no longer be able to work. They frequently miss work, their job performance deteriorates, they are less resilient, they cannot handle pressure well and run the risk of losing their job completely. The costs to the economy and state are enormous. The lost profits for companies due to low productivity and missed days of work are high. And then there are the costs of medical treatment and therapy, not to mention the costs of women’s shelters, advice organisations and supporting affected children and young people. There are also costs related to police involvement, criminal investigations, court proceedings, legal aid, the penal system, probation services and correctional programmes.

Where do you get your data from?

This data is from the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) on violence in intimate relationships released in 2017 for the reported year of 2016. We worked on some of these statistics together with the BKA. These statistics do not include the undetected cases – they only deal with the incidents that have actually been reported to the BKA. They also only refer to alleged violent current and former intimate partners, not convicted offenders.

15 Million Echo Users

According to a PwC survey, approximately 5% of the German population is already using the Amazon Echo smart speaker with Alexa.
Another 13% plan to do so in the near future.

What can Echo of Help do that other devices can’t?

In contrast to Amazon Echo, Echo of Help responds not only to the trigger word ‘Alexa’ but also to any set wake word. The device ‘learns’ this wake word in a simple process. Once configured, this wake word has to be spoken just once for Echo of Help to be triggered. This causes a self-selected silent alarm in the form of text messages to be sent to pre-defined contacts. The console doesn't even light up.

Does Echo of Help work like Amazon Echo?

Echo of Help has the same functions as Amazon Echo. It was developed with hardware and software components that Amazon provides to companies so they can integrate Amazon’s technology into their own products.

Can I buy Echo of Help?

No. Echo of Help is only a prototype that is trying to show that the function of a silent alarm should be integrated in every voice assistant. Together with your help, we want to use the campaign to get Amazon to put Echo of Help in every Echo device as a standard function. While it may not completely eliminate the problem of domestic violence, it could protect victims in their time of need. Echo of Help is only intended to be used as an emergency aid. It is important for women to seek professional help in the long term.

Is this an endorsement of Amazon Echo?

No. We are not endorsing any products. An Echo device in itself is not a solution to the problem. Our point is that Echo devices should have technology that women can use to call for help when the situation gets dangerous. Our ultimate aim is to eliminate the need for these calls for help altogether. We are calling for a comprehensive approach to solving the problem, with preventative measures and extensive support for the women affected.

What can a silent alarm do to fight domestic violence?

A silent alarm can help women break the cycle of violence and seek initial help. Women can inform trusted, pre-defined contacts that if a violent incident occurs, a call for help with a request such as ‘Please call the police’ will be sent to them. This will also help break the taboo surrounding the subject of violence. Since the alarm shows no sign of having been sent, the victim is not placed in additional danger by activating it. Echo of Help is only intended to be used as an emergency aid. It is important for women to seek professional help in the long term.

Why does Amazon Echo not have a silent alarm?

That’s a difficult question to answer. But that is exactly what our campaign is about. Technically speaking, there is nothing to stop Amazon from implementing a silent alarm that is triggered by a wake word. But you can write to Amazon and ask them yourself. Or you can support our campaign by sharing the hashtag #EchoOfHelp.

Why does the silent alarm not go directly to the police?

The police are not in a position to receive and process these types of messages at the moment. This may be a solution in the future. Since the emergency message can be tailored, every woman can decide for herself how to break the cycle of violence and whether her contact person should call the police.

How does Echo of Help work exactly?

We'd be happy to share this information, but it would go beyond the scope of this website. All of the material such as images, infographics and a guided tour of the prototype can be downloaded here.

Why are you only focusing on the victims and not the perpetrators?

This specific campaign focuses on providing emergency aid to victims. The ultimate aim is to prevent violence. Efforts that directly address the perpetrators are certainly also necessary.

Is Echo of Help a joint campaign with Amazon?

No, it is not a joint campaign with Amazon. We want to make Amazon aware that a relatively simple technological tweak to its existing product can help victims of violence.

What does the German National Committee for UN Women want to achieve with Echo of Help?

We would like a response to our call for action and hope that Amazon uses Echo of Help to look into how this technology could be implemented. Amazon should acknowledge its responsibility as a company and take steps to: first, raise awareness of violence against women and second, integrate this silent alarm function in its existing voice assistant to help women.

Is this campaign only aimed at Amazon?

No, all companies should acknowledge their responsibility. We started with Amazon as it is one of the world's largest and most influential companies. Ultimately it is about holding companies accountable. They should investigate what specific measures they can introduce to end violence against women. We call on all companies to raise awareness about this subject and assist in any way they can.

What does the German National Committee for UN Women want to achieve with Echo of Help?

We want to use the idea to raise awareness about domestic violence in Germany. The taboo must be broken, and victims and also perpetrators need to know where they can get help. Amazon's Echo voice assistant can be developed further to send out a discreet call for help to pre-defined contacts if a situation becomes dangerous. Our goal is to get Amazon to act on our suggestion and look into whether it can implement this technology in all Echo devices. In doing so, Amazon would contribute to assisting women in dangerous situations. Apart from Amazon, it is ultimately about holding companies accountable. Companies should investigate the specific measures they can introduce to end violence against women. We call on all companies to raise awareness of this subject and assist in any way they can.

Have you received a response from Amazon yet?

Not yet. We are waiting for their response.

About UN Women in Germany

who we are
and what we do

German National Committee for UN Women is an independent non-governmental organisation that promotes UN Women in Germany and raises donations for its work. We firmly believe that every woman has a right to enjoy a life free of violence, poverty and discrimination. We believe that everyone will benefit from gender equality, a necessity for global change. This can only be achieved if women and men work together.


Want to report on Echo of Help and our campaign?

You’ll find all of the technical information (images, infographics and a guided tour of the prototype) in our press kit. We’ll be happy to answer any of your questions. Contact us by email at press@echo-of-help.com.