Editor’s note: Content warning: this story contains references to domestic violence and sexual abuse.
Barkha Bajaj is a trained psychotherapist trained in trauma and family therapy, based out of Pune, India.
When I set out to create the Aks Foundation, the vision was simple: a safe space for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault to be heard without being judged, to make their own choices and feel validated. At the time, there weren’t any 24/7 crisis hotline numbers in India — and I knew that needed to change. And thanks to a partnership with Google, our helpline is reaching people across the country.
Back when I was studying to get my masters in the U.S., I worked with a crisis center for domestic violence and sexual abuse. There, I learned about what kind of counseling survivors could really benefit from and when I returned to India, I wanted to bring that same model back home. Four years later, thanks to a team of truly incredible hardworking passionate people, the Aks Crisis Intervention and Prevention Plan was born.
Aks has a 24/7 crisis line, a legal line for assistance and community education programs for prevention purposes. Unfortunately, survivors of abuse are often silenced and face isolation from society. Having the resources to feel supported and empowered to make choices for oneself can make a world of difference for an individual.
Bringing men into the conversation on violence against women in 2017
We’re still a small team with limited resources, and what we needed was a better way of reaching those who needed our help. So when Google reached out to us in 2022 asking if we wanted to partner and elevate our hotline information, it was the perfect opportunity.
For over a decade, Google has worked closely with crisis support providers to help people navigate topics like suicide, substance use disorders and domestic violence. In addition to returning helpful information from reliable sources for related queries, they work with local crisis partners to surface high-quality information around the world. Now, when people in India search for information related to domestic violence on Google, they will see a box at the top of the search results displaying the contact information for the 24/7 Aks Crisis Line. Since then, we’ve been receiving almost five times as many calls as we were getting before.
Once, we got a call from an 18-year old mother who told us that she found our number on Google. Married off at age 15 to an abusive husband, she was constantly suffering violence from him. One night, he threw her out of the house and kept her away from her baby. When she went to the hospital, she was frightened and felt powerless, with nowhere to go. Fortunately, she found our number and called us. We were able to get her the help she needed from an NGO local to where she was. They took her in for a few nights, and worked with local authorities to reunite her with her daughter. Her story has a happy ending: she now provides live-in domestic help for an elderly couple who happily took her and her daughter in.
Aks Foundation volunteer team at a panel discussion on domestic violence in India
Google Search has helped put us on the map and help people who might never have discovered us otherwise. The one thing taken away from survivors is choice — and Aks Foundation gives them a place where they can call at any time of the day, be heard without judgment and make their own choices. My hope is that one day, we’ll live in a world in which no survivor will ever have to feel alone.