Worried about reports of rising domestic violence during lockdown, Polish teen Krysia Paszko came up with a website, which on the surface looks like a cosmetics shop, but actually is a virtual helpline offering victims covert help. With families cooped up together under stress, one abuse hotline saw a 50% hike in calls during Poland’s first lockdown. However, despite helping hundreds of people and winning 10,000-euro ($12,000) EU award for the page, Paszko says there is a long way to go to safeguard victims.

Krysia Paszko created the Facebook page Rumianki i Bratki (Chamomiles and Pansies) in April 2020. Featuring photos of lavender soap and cleansing sage facemasks, the shop looks real. Instead of salespeople, on the other side of the screen is a volunteer team of psychologists from the Center for Women’s Rights.

“If someone places an order and provides their address, that’s a signal for us that a police response is required right then and there,” said Paszko.

Those who just want to talk will request more product information, leading the psychologists to ask coded questions like, “how does the person’s skin respond to alcohol or are children’s cosmetics also required.”

So far the team has helped around 350 people, notably offering free legal advice and action plans. Paszko said “the more restrictions there are, the harder it is to leave the house and even see a friend, the more people write to us.”

“And often aggressors will become more active when times are tough, when there are more infections, more restrictions, more pandemic fear. “The majority of those who reach out are female and under 30 years old. The abuse can be physical or psychological and at the hands of a partner or relative. Between 10 and 20% of the cases resulted in calls to the police.

“I remember this one young woman who was under such constant surveillance by her partner that she could only write to us when she was bathing her child,” Paszko said. The woman had previously tried to break off the relationship but her alcoholic, abusive partner refused to move out. Paszko said that thanks to her team’s intervention, the police came and “made him give up his keys, informing him of the consequences if he returned. Fortunately that was the end of the harassment.”

For her efforts, Paszko won the EU’s Civil Solidarity Prize, a €10,000 ($12,000) award for Covid-19 initiatives.

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