Does Offering Text/SMS Support Endanger
Domestic Violence Survivors?

Adding text (aka SMS) support to your crisis/support helpline provides more avenues for clients to access your services, which is undoubtedly a good  thing — but that should be balanced with the extra risk it may put some clients in.  In this post, we will define what those extra risks are, how they can be best mitigated, and then list the pros of providing text support.  Hopefully, with this information, you can make a decision based on your organization’s needs to see if adding text support is right for you.

What are the risks?

The primary risk with text support, is that that clients have less control over when they receive messages. With a phone call, clients can hang up, and stop the conversation; with chats, clients can close their browser tab, and also stop the conversation. But with text, once the conversation is initiated, there is no easy way for clients to abort the conversation, and stop receiving messages from the staff or volunteer. This can put them at risk of their phone buzzing when they are in an unsafe situation.
A second risk that is not specific to texts, is the phone saving the conversation history, and the abuser reading these messages later.

How do you mitigate these risks?

The most important way to mitigate unwanted text messages is to put the client in control of when they can exit the conversation.  Unfortunately with text, this is not as simple as hanging up a phone call or closing a browser tab — but with Izzy, it is still quick. 

On Izzy, this is handled when a client sends a message where all it says is “exit” — in this case, Izzy immediately closes the conversation.  No return message, no nothing.   The staff or volunteer is informed that the client exited the conversation and it is closed to new messages.  If, the client wants to continue the conversation, it simply comes in as a brand new conversation in Izzy (as if they texted again the next day).

Often times, if a line is busy, a new conversation may be waiting in the queue until an operator is available.  This brings up similar risks, and the client must be in control of when they can exit the queue.   Again, the client is informed that they can type “exit” at any time to leave the queue.

What are the benefits of text support?

We’ve discussed how texting may put a client in danger, and how that can be mitigated.  But what are some of the benefits of text support?  They can include:

  • Texting is the most frequently used form of communication among Americans younger than 50 (Gallup, 2014)
  • The percentage of mobile subscribers who subscribed to a messaging plan with unlimited texting is 99% (Communications Monitoring Report 2018 – Retail Mobile Sector | CRTC)
  • Texting can be done silently with others in the vicinity
  • Texting is easier to use compared to chat, especially on mobile devices

Summary

There are many benefits adding text support to your line, but the risks must be taken into account depending on the type of service you are providing.  Services like Izzy make it as easy as possible to put the client in control, and you must decide if the risks outweigh the benefits and improved reach texting support offers.


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