Abstract: The Role of Technology in Help Seeking and Services with Emerging Adults Who Are Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence and Sexual Assault (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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The Role of Technology in Help Seeking and Services with Emerging Adults Who Are Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence and Sexual Assault

Thursday, January 21, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Rachel Voth Schrag, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Leila Wood, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Texas Medical Branch, TX
Dixie Hairston, MSW, Senior Research Associate, University of Texas Medical Branch, TX
Background and Purpose: Emerging adults, aged 18-29, are digital natives for whom technology is critical in mediating their relationships with the world. Emerging adults are also at unique risk of experiencing intimate partner and sexual violence (IPV & SA). Given the increasing infusion of information communication technology (ICT) into anti-violence advocacy (Anderson et al, 2019; Brignone & Edleson, 2019), and the broad use of ICT with college-attending emerging adults, it is important to understand how advocates and service users within campus-based advocacy programs are leveraging relating to technology for support as students they navigate experiences of IPV and SA. Research questions guiding this study are: How are advocates using ICT with college students who are survivors of IPV and SA? What are survivor recommendations for advocacy service engagement via ICT?

Methods: Mixed methods data were collected as part of an evaluation of campus-based advocacy as implemented in five programs. Qualitative data were collected from 23 campus and community-based advocates (ages ranged from 18 to 64, 10 identified as non-White), and 25 survivors of interpersonal violence who had accessed campus-based advocacy services (ages ranged from 18-27, 9 identified as non-White). Quantitative data capturing methods of services access and engagement frequency were collected via web-based survey from 63 survivors who engaged in advocacy services (ages ranged from 18-41, 60% identified as non-White). Thematic analysis was used to understand qualitative data (Braun & Clarke, 2006). Kappa values for inter-rater reliability ranged from 80.48-100 among coders. Descriptive analysis was used to identify the frequency of services access and engagement through ICT.

Results: Survivors frequently consult program websites and social media accounts in the process of choosing to engage with services, though few (11%) reported learning about a program’s existence via technology. Email, phone, text, and secure message are commonly used to communicate with student-survivors to coordinate appointments, send referral information, engage in safety planning, and facilitate availability during crisis situations. Advocates seek to balance addressing the risk survivors face of technology facilitated abuse and confidentiality concerns, while recognizing the vital role of ICT in reducing isolation and enhancing survivors’ social support systems. Key themes identified were: 1) technology as a means of seeking help; 2) using technology in on-going service provision; and 3) the importance of recognizing technology facilitated abuse in the advocacy and education process with emerging adults. Recommendations shared by survivors included: ensure quick responses to digital help-seeking; think about the visual packaging of technology facilitated interfaces to enhance sense of warmth; use technology to educate emerging adults about healthy relationships and seeking help.

Conclusions and Implications: ICTs are a critical component of help seeking and advocacy for emerging adults. Advocates can support survivors of technologically facilitated abuse, enhance psychoeducational efforts, and increase accessibility through effective deployment of ICTs. Programs aiming to support this population should put significant effort into making their digital ‘front door’ informative, inviting, and accessible for all potential service recipients.