An online community set up ten years ago by a Scottish woman living abroad has proved to be a lifeline for women across the globe fleeing domestic violence during lockdown.

Girl Gone International (GGI) was founded by Anne Scott in 2010 when she was working and travelling abroad. 

Socially isolated and trying to navigate a new city, language and lifestyle, she reached out to others online and soon the community was thriving in real life and on social media.

Now the millions-strong band of women across more than 200 cities have rallied together to provide resources, money and emotional support to members living with domestic abuse.

READ MORE: Scotland's new 'pandemic' of domestic abuse and mental health problems

She said: "I was a digital nomad and every time I found myself in a new city I would have to start from scratch. By the time I had done that about ten times, I was isolated, far away from friends and family and in a really bad place.

"That's how GGI came about - I was basically throwing myself a lifeline, to find support and not feel alone in a new city."

The first meeting of six women in Hamburg remains "one of the best experiences" of Ms Scott's life.

"We intrinsically understood each other. There's no shame in talking about feeling lonely, or that you're running low on cash and just surviving day to day."

Some of those women moved to new cities and countries, replicating the GGI model, which is run entirely by volunteers.

Each community, now in more than 55 countries, offers information resources, events - now moved online - and access to networks of like minded women for practical and emotional advice.

Ms Scott said: "Everything's so much easier if you're not doing it on your own. GGI brings friendship and a sense of belonging, wherever you are. Having a sense of community make the world feel safer."

As the coronavirus outbreak began to close borders many women found themselves stuck - in unknown countries and in dangerous relationships - and turned to the GGI community for help.

"We don't normally see cries for help but we did see a massive shift of people who needed help with repatriation or had lost their jobs overseas - it was quite precarious. 

"And that especially applies to women in domestic abuse situations."

Experts estimated an increase of up to 15 million more domestic abuse cases around the world as a direct result of pandemic restrictions, and in the UK, calls to helplines have soared by almost half since March.

Members of GGI have rallied around women in need providing translation services, signposting to local services and even raising funds to help them leave. 

"Domestic abuse is not just physical violence," said Ms Scott. "It's emotional and psychological abuse, financial abuse and coercive control. This abuse can be more common when you're living away from home, far from friends and family.

"One woman had been beaten and had her passport taken away from her before she was abandoned - she had nothing. Another woman was stuck with her abuser and a local coordinator was able to go and check on her. They were in really disturbing situations and what our community has been really good at is having people on the ground that can step in and help."

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Because the foundation of the groups is trust and openness, the safe online space has meant that many women have been able to identify and voice concerns over abuse that may have remained hidden without it.

Ms Scott said: "Women ask themselves if they are mad or if they are imagining what is happening. These are the questions they ask themselves for years. There's a loss of perspective that makes them vulnerable and it becomes normal. It isn't until you connect with others who can say, 'no, that's not normal' and a switch can be flicked."

Social isolation, so common to so many more people in the current climate, is the "most dangerous place you can ever go", says Ms Scott. "It's massively disempowering. If you can't identify what is happening to you, how can you ask for help? Women will doubt themselves so much until even someone you've never met online validates [your experience]. 

"That little bit of confidence makes a world of difference and helps women get themselves out of places they shouldn't stay."