Using Technology To Better Support Survivors

poster image for support seeking: talk, text or typeLike other human services, sexual assault centres in Ontario want to constantly improve access to their services.

In 2016, the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres (OCRCC) decided to explore digital communication tools as a way to supplement crisis call lines and drop-in services, and to reach under-served populations. OCRCC was keenly aware of the safety and privacy considerations. They also recognized that such an initiative may require enhanced technological capacity among their 29 member organizations.

They partnered with PRIMAL GLOW Communications in a pilot project to test the communication options available.

Start with the humans

We began by conducting in-person Technology Consultations supplemented by surveys with the staff teams of 26 participating sexual assault centres. Our goal was to understand the centres’ current use of technology in frontline settings as well as the needs, wishes and barriers faced by staff and volunteers in their work with survivors.

We also undertook user research on the populations that were most likely to use digital communication options.

What can technology offer?

Based on our research, we identified chat, text and video conferencing as suitable options.

Because there were many different organizations involved in delivering the services, flexibility was essential. Organizations could choose which tool fit their community and capacity best.

This range of tools are also effective in meeting the needs of younger support seekers and other underserved populations, such as people with communication and mobility disabilities and isolated individuals, such as those living in rural and remote communities.

Exploring the options

PRIMAL GLOW then undertook a Digital Environmental Scan of over 16 chat, text and video conferencing tools.

Each was measured on requirements set by the client: adherence to PHIPA requirements for privacy and security, compliance to the AODA standards for accessibility, ease of use, limited barriers to use (for example, no registration). We documented our findings into a comprehensive report and concluded with recommendations.

Do the tools fit the need?

Guided by our findings, OCRCC selected the most promising products. PRIMAL GLOW tested these products with 13 sexual assault centres located throughout the province.

Centres selected which tools they wished to test. Via webinars, we trained their staff and volunteers how use the tools and strategies for providing online crisis support. We also offered ongoing coaching and created a toolkit with Policies and Procedures, a User Guide and outreach tools (pictured).

To evaluate the success of the pilot, we worked with the organizations to assess support seeker uptake, staff/volunteer comfort, and agency capacity.

Over the 9 months of the pilot project, 116 crisis text and chat sessions and 56 hours of video counselling were conducted with support seekers.

Ripple effect – Safe Support Chat

Seeing the success of this digital communication integration and our recommendations for next steps, the funder provided funding for the development of a chat and text product customized to meet the specific needs of sexual assault survivors.

Safe Support Chat is a secure and private communication tool designed for sexual assault centres. Informed by support seekers and frontline workers from sexual assault centres, this real time messaging chat service offers secure online support to survivors of sexual violence and harassment. The tool does not collect or save any data about the person seeking support so support seekers may remain completely anonymous.

The main messaging platform for the centre’s online facilitator is a custom implementation of the Element chat application which is an open source messaging service that is built on the Matrix API.