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EU prize for a teenage girl’s online shop that fights domestic violence

A Polish teenager won the European Union Civil Solidarity Prize for creating a disguised e-shop that helps the victims of domestic violence, according to a press release issued by the EESC .

The 17-year old Krystyna was inspired by the French initiative, where people can ask for a specific mask at the pharmacy – which serves as a code that there are a victim of domestic violence.

“I thought it was a brilliant idea, so I came up with the idea of selling cosmetics”, Krystyna said to the BBC, so last April, she decided to launch the online shop “Camomiles and Pansies”, pretending to sell 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 responds and asks how long the “skin problems” have been going on for, or how the affected skin reacts to alcohol. If someone places an order and leaves an address, it is actually a code-message asking the authorities to visit their home and help them out.

As soon as Krystyna wrote about her plan on her own Facebook page, she was surprised by the intense response. “I thought it would only be for my friends, and friends of friends. I thought I would help maybe one person or two, but the shares on Facebook were big and it became really popular,” she said.

Seeing the amount of interest, Krystyna reached out to the Women’s Rights Centre, a Polish NGO, that  provided psychologists and lawyers to work with the website. Most of the victims that responded were young women, bellow 40, and a 10% were male.

“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,” she said.

Her  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 organisations tackling the consequences of Covid-19.

Krystyna’s project was awarded as one of the projects focusing on counseling services. Projects that offer online support in a variety of areas are grouped under this category, including mental health, legal counseling or virtual assistance to victims of domestic violence.

In times of social isolation, where victims are often condemned to the constant presence of the perpetrator of violence, they may not be able to call the police or the domestic violence helpline. People experiencing domestic violence have no alternative because they cannot leave home to go to work, shop, meet friends or even go for a walk. Therefore, Krystyna Paszko ‘s project offers the necessary help and has already helped many people.

Its uniqueness lies in the fact that it was created by a young person who uses communication methods easily accessible to this age group. The project clearly responds to specific needs in the era of lockdown, which for victims of domestic violence often meant confinement with their perpetrator in a small space.

According to Krystyna Paszko, helping others is something natural. I cannot imagine my life without helping others. My whole life is serving others. This scouting taught me this attitude – she said.

When presenting the awards, Cillian Lohan , EESC Vice-President for Communication, stated:

The EESC has underlined on several occasions that solidarity and targeted joint action are essential to surviving the pandemic. The only effective response to a crisis such as a pandemic is to act quickly, firmly and together. Lessons can be learned from this on how to deal with other crises, whether they are social, economic or environmental in nature.

Civil society is at the forefront of all solidarity efforts and without its help on the ground, the costs of a pandemic would be much higher. All projects submitted for the award are evidence of selfless civic and grassroots commitment, which shows that civil society makes a huge contribution to this struggle. The award recognizes the people and organizations that are working to improve the situation in these exceptional times. It’s an honor to be able to celebrate together.

The awards were presented for projects from 21 European Union countries. One prize was awarded for a project with a cross-border dimension and one for a UK organization, which was to show that the EESC wishes to maintain close links with UK civil society despite the country’s withdrawal from the EU.

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