Research finds that Google searches may be a predictor of domestic violence

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When the COVID pandemic broke out and Italy experienced a strict lockdown, news stories started reporting anecdotal evidence about women forced to live under the same roof with abusive partners. However, scholars such as Selin Koksal, a Ph.D. Candidate in Public Policy at Bocconi University in Milan specializing in population and gender, lacked reliable data sources to track the phenomenon.

The selected 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).

The idea underlying the study is that the Internet—and Google in particular—may offer a medium to anonymously voice concerns about abusive partners and collect relevant information. Calls to the helpline (1522) measure potential risk of experiencing domestic violence, while calls to the emergency number measure actual violence.

The frequency of queries for keywords 1522, feminicide, domestic violence, and gender-based violence are consistently positively and significantly correlated with helpline calls across the whole investigated time period (2013-2020), with a time lag between search and call of around one week.

Their predictive power increases after the COVID-19 outbreak, when traditional help mechanisms became harder to reach.

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