A new use case is emerging for cryptocurrency: helping women who’ve suffered sexual harassment or assault gain financial independence while also protecting their privacy.
Case in point, a sexual assault survivor used the crypto-powered payment processor Seeds to crowdfund $500 in September after the trauma left her unable to work for several months.
Had she used a traditional crowdfunding site like Kickstarter or GoFundMe, the survivor would have had to provide a government-issued ID and bank account, which someone working at the platform might have connected with her story.
Instead, using the Seeds ethereum-based token allowed this first-time crypto user to raise the money without revealing her identity to anyone directly involved other than the platform’s CEO, Rachel Cook.
The survivor received the token – which cost less than a quarter, –as a gift from Cook in order to post a “Request for Help” through 30 apps that use Seeds’ free front-end tools, such as Aura, an app for meditation. Users then donated through the in-app pop-up with their credit cards.
Usually, that money is split between app developers, Seeds’ 10 percent cut, and the end-recipient who filed the request.
But in this case, Cook waived all fees once the tokenized request was fulfilled. Cook said it only took three weeks to raise the funds, the fastest fulfillment since the token was first launched in October 2017.
“I met this woman in person, by coincidence, and we started talking about #MeToo movement,” Cook said, adding that people who experience sexual harassment or assault at work are often afraid to speak up or leave because they can’t afford to lose that job.
“Survivors have trouble giving themselves permission to ask for money,” Cook said. “The next logical extension I saw in that [#metoo] was we need to talk about how this economic [crypto] system can meet this need.”
Cook, an assault survivor herself, said she aims to make these anonymous requests more accessible for crypto newbies who need help with legal and mental health costs.
She told CoinDesk:
“We have to let people know that this is available and that people can use it without feeling uncomfortable…We want to fill that gap.”
Ticket to safety
The crowdfunding story is just one example of how women in the cryptocurrency community are quietly helping each other learn to use different tools to overcome personal trauma.
In one famous case in Afghanistan, at least one abuse survivor worked with bitcoin advocate Roya Mahboob years ago to discreetly earn bitcoin in order to pay for a divorce.
More recently, a North American cam model told CoinDesk that she’s saving crypto to try and get away from an “unhappy” living situation that is detrimental to her mental health. Since she alone controls the private keys, she doesn’t need to worry about external evidence, like bank statements, unexpectedly arriving in the mail.
“Crypto has definitely provided me with tools to overcome obstacles,” the erotic performer told CoinDesk. “I want women to feel like crypto can help empower them because of the accessibility of it.”
Another domestic abuse survivor and blockchain developer is working on a suite of money management decentralized applications (dapps), for such users.
“Being financially stable was the key reason why I was able to leave [the abusive husband],” the developer (who, like the model, spoke on condition of anonymity) told CoinDesk. “Survivors, like other disadvantaged folks, lack wealth-building vehicles.”
Speaking to how the vast majority of intimate partner violence involves some form of financial abuse, where the abuser controls the victim’s access to economic resources, the developer added:
“The main reason why women stay in abusive relationships is because they are dependent upon their partners.”
Unlike the developer and model, both of whom often work with bitcoin, the survivor who used a Seeds token later redeemed the token for fiat via the startup’s web portal. Although the survivor received the funds with PayPal (which would have to know her identity), there was no public information connecting her to the Seeds campaign.
In the future, any survivor who wants help cashing out fiat without offering any personal information to third parties could simply ask Cook for alternatives, she said.
Plus, others can acquire Seeds tokens without a verified ID by using a decentralized exchange platform like AirSwap or 0x. Yet thanks to the transparency of blockchain transactions, survivors who purchase tokens with help from more experienced friends can follow along and participate without having to solely trust those teaching her. Cook said:
“We’re reaching a lot of people that don’t think of themselves as crypto-savvy.”
Seeds has processed roughly a dozen Requests for Help, from $100 up to $1,200 each. So far, only one was related to trauma.
So Cook is spreading the word to survivors who are open to trying crypto but nervous about handling long-term custody or volatility. For them, this token might offer a faster payout, in return for less personal information shared with institutions, than a mainstream bitcoin exchange or crowdfunding campaign.
“Crypto allows us to create systems that transcend broken, centralized, power structures,” Cook said. “And that’s what we need more of.”