Domestic Violence Victims Seek Comfort in Digital Lifeline
In response to the media’s shaming uproar after a grainy video surfaced of NFL running back Ray Rice punching his wife, Janay Palmer, in an Atlantic City elevator in February, Beverly Gooden coined the #WhyIStayed hashtag to spread domestic violence awareness. As the hashtag went viral throughout the Twittersphere, domestic violence victims shared the logic behind their choices. Besides economic dependence on their abusers, victims also remain in relationships due to fear and unworthiness.
Overwhelming volumes seeking support
According to The National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH), “on average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States—more than 12 million women and men over the course of a year.” Unfortunately, this silent epidemic has a short media shelf life. Although high-profile cases such as Chris Brown’s brutal assault on Rihanna the night before the 2009 Grammy Awards ignite awareness, the conversation dissipates until the next news cycle on domestic violence arises. In a Huffington Post article, author and domestic violence survivor Gooden encourages the public and media to replace their judgment with concrete solutions.
“I hope people learn that the abuser is solely responsible for the abuse. It is not the victim’s responsibility to prevent it or explain,” said Gooden on Dr. Phil. “I hope we begin to really focus on the violent person and explore their actions, as opposed to interrogating victims. Our first question to a victim in the wake of violence should be, “What can I do to help you?”
Sadly, the Ray Rice controversy occurred just five days from the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Led by then-Senator Joe Biden, VAWA was signed by U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1994. The landmark legislation provided crisis intervention and law enforcement resources to victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking in the United States.
Getting over the “digital wall”
As a component of VAWA, the 24-hour NDVH was launched in 1996. Traditional hotlines are increasingly expanding their outreach to domestic violence victims and survivors through the use of new technologies. In fact, domestic violence experts report that online chat and text services ensure anonymity and privacy. As Brian Pinero, the director of Digital Services for NDVH, points out, because of this “digital wall,” victims are more likely to share challenging situations compared with a phone call where they may exhibit shame and anxiety as they verbalize their abuse.
“It's easier to throw things over the digital wall,” said Pinero, in an NBC News interview. “People will open up and talk in ways they never would if they were speaking aloud. And they might never get an hour, even 20 minutes, uninterrupted on the phone. There's something about saying things out loud that can make it feel more real—and that can be terrifying.”
For example, sexual coercion is one topic where a victim may prefer digital engagement compared with the traditional phone hotline. NDVH data from November 2013 to August 2014 reveals that victims and survivors report sexual abuse at a higher rate (12.1%) on live chat compared with hotline users (6.4%). “People will open up about a difficult subject because of the embarrassment factor,” Pinero adds.
Breaking down the “walls” with live chat engagement
In response to striking research that one in three U.S. teenagers experience physical, sexual, emotional, or verbal abuse from their partner, NDVH and Break the Cycle launched loveisrespect, a project of NDVH, for 13-to-24-year-old victims in 2007. While loveisrespect was created for teens and young adults in unhealthy relationships, TheHotline.org targets adults (ages 25 and older). Since the youth initiative’s original live chat solution couldn’t accommodate the increased volume, loveisrespect migrated to LivePerson’s cloud-based LiveEngage platform in 2011.
“The experience was night and day for us,” Pinero recalls. “Suddenly, we could see at a glance how many people were in the queue, and agents could chat with as many users concurrently as they could handle. We could analyze chat conversations for a variety of purposes, and we could track volume and usage statistics. It was groundbreaking for us.”
The LivePerson platform also gave loveisrespect unlimited scale. Its previous chat solution could not accommodate spikes in chat volumes that inevitably occur when high-profile domestic violence incidents hit the airwaves and the social media sphere.
Because of the overwhelming response of loveisrespect, NDVH decided to extend LiveEngage to TheHotLine.org in October 2013—and the response has been comparable to that of loveisrespect. In its first month of deployment, NDVH received 300 chats. Within the last three months, the hotline's average has exceed 1,100 chat requests per month.
Technology solved, but not limited resources
Despite having resolved its technology challenges for live chat, NDVH remains constrained by limited resources. With one call center in Austin and three to eight live chat agents on duty between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. CST on Monday through Friday, NDVH can’t keep up with the overwhelming demand for its services. Combined, TheHotLine.org and loveisrespect received 331,078 contacts by chat, phone, or text in 2013. However, due to a short staff, approximately 77,500 contacts were unanswered, with nearly 16 percent as dropped chat sessions.
Resource challenges for NDVH continue in 2014. For example, within two days after the Ray Rice video was released, TheHotLine.org and loveisrespect witnessed an 56 percent spike in live chat contacts—and NDVH was unable to answer all of them.
Those wishing to donate to the NDVH can find more details here.
Find out why the National Domestic Violence Hotline turned to the cloud and LivePerson for live chat and the results achieved by reading the LivePerson success story.
Brian Pinero and Wade Treichler of NDVH speak about the nonprofit's use of the LivePerson platform and achieved business metrics by watching the video.
Cassie Drochelman joined loveisrespect as a peer advocate supervisor two years ago and has witnessed countless meaningful chat engagements. One that sticks out in her mind is a chat conversation with a young woman who was frightened for her life and chatting from her closet. Check out the Agent Connections story and video for the entire story.