Abstract: Creating a Digital Trauma-Informed Space: Chat and Text Advocacy for Survivors of Violence (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Creating a Digital Trauma-Informed Space: Chat and Text Advocacy for Survivors of Violence

Thursday, January 13, 2022
Liberty Ballroom N, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Leila Wood, PhD, MSSW, Associate Professor, University of Texas Medical Branch, TX
Dixie Hairston, MSW, Senior Research Associate, University of Texas Medical Branch, TX
Rachel Voth Schrag, PhD, MSW, Assistant Professor, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Ruben Parra-Cardona, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Jeff Temple, PhD, Professor & Psychologist, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, TX
Background. Individuals increasingly favor communication via chat/text mediums (Budinger et al., 2015), especially adolescents (Fukkink & Hermanns, 2009) and individuals needing a private way to reach out for help (Slakoff et al., 2020). This preference has been increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic, where the need for technology-based services, including chat and text rose, especially for intimate partner violence (IPV) and sexual assault survivors. Historically, hotline services have been an important way for violence survivors and community members to receive immediate, anonymous, crisis intervention services, often leading to longer-term service engagement (Grossman, et al., 2019). In order to provide crisis services in line with emerging needs and preferences, IPV and sexual assault service agencies have begun implementing digital chat/text hotline services. However, there is little research on virtual or chat and text services in IPV and SA service agencies. As digital services become more available, there is a critical need to evaluate chat/text advocacy methods for violence survivors.

Methods. Using a multiphasic mixed methods design, this study analyzed 392 chat/text hotline transcripts (125 text and 267 chat) from a community-based partner IPV and sexual assault organization and conducted interviews with 18 advocates providing chat and text hotline services along with 12 IPV and SA survivor users of chat/text advocacy services. Seventy (70) service users participated in a quantitative survey after a chat/text interaction about their service use experience and needs. Interviews were analyzed using Grounded Theory-based approaches, transcripts were analyzed using content analysis, and surveys were analyzed using descriptive and bivariate statistics.

Findings. The majority (78.3%) of chat/text service users identified as being survivors of violence, 3.3% were formal support individuals (social worker, nurse, law enforcement), and 17% identified as informal support individuals (friends and family). About half of chat/text service users (51.5%) reported experiencing IPV, 14.8% of chat/text service users reported experiencing sexual assault, and 5.3% of chat/text service users reported experiencing sex trafficking. Findings indicate chat and text services are provide using a trauma-informed model. These services provide a space for connection, resource provision, education, and access to resource gain in a timely, concise, and survivor-centered way. Analysis revealed five major goals for chat and text-based advocacy models including: 1). rapid access to support and connection; 2). identification of options and needs for each service user; 3). increased access to resources and supports; 4). expanded understanding of violence, abuse, and harm; and 5). improvement of survivor safety. Goals are met through 15 general advocacy skills and 4 chat and text specific skills. Service users overwhelmingly endorsed positive experiences with chat/text with 88% of survey takers indicating services met their needs. The presentation will focus on skills and approaches used by chat/text advocates to support survivors.

Conclusion. Findings highlight the utility of chat/text services for increasing access to support services for survivors of violence, particularly adolescents, emerging adults, and those living with abusive individuals. Future research should continue to explore this promising practice modality and assess program outcomes. Social workers need to prepare for providing advocacy via chat/text.