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Teen sets up a European Union prize-winning fake cosmetics shop to help victims of domestic violence

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Krystyna Paszko, 18, a Polish high school student was disturbed by reports of surging domestic violence cases under the coronavirus lockdown, decided to launch a fake online shop to offer a lifeline to victims trapped in their homes.

Her idea won a European Union prize that came with €10,000 (£8,700)

Paszko: “Firstly, I heard about the increase in domestic violence cases during the pandemic. Then I heard about a French initiative, where people go to the pharmacy and ask for a special mask that lets the pharmacist know they are a victim of domestic violence. I thought it was a brilliant idea, so I came up with the idea of selling cosmetics.”

Krystyna launched a fake online shop in 2020 called “Camomiles and Pansies” to sell those cosmetics. The idea is that the victim can hide requests for help from their abuser at home by appearing to be shopping online.

When a victim writes asking to buy a cream, a psychologist will respond instead of a salesperson and asks how long the “skin problems” have been going on, or how the affected skin reacts to alcohol. If someone places an order and leaves an address, it is a signal asking for authorities to visit their home.

After Krystyna wrote about her plan on her Facebook page, she was inundated with questions.

With so much interest, Krystyna contacted the Women’s Rights Centre, a Polish NGO, asking for assistance. In response, it provided psychologists and lawyers to work with the website.

Over 350 people have contacted the website since its launch. Most of the victims are young, under 40, and about 10% are male.

Krystyna said: “More younger women prefer to write on Facebook than to call on the phone, it’s more natural for younger women to use Facebook chat. Most of the men writing to us are teenagers.”

The initiative was one of 23 projects to receive the EU’s Civil Solidarity Prize, a one-off contest offering €10,000 to reward civil society organizations tackling the consequences of Covid-19.

Krystyna told the BBC: “People are more eager to treat domestic violence cases as family conflicts, rather than a crime. I think this system is contributing a lot to that because it’s not effective, it’s very bureaucratic.”

She said there are around 70,000 domestic violence cases annually in Poland, of which only between 13-14,000 are treated as crimes.

Upon finding out she had won the EU’s Civil Solidarity Prize she was pleased that a spotlight was being shone on the problem of abuse.

She was also pleased too for her team, who had worked hard to pull off the initiative.

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