Tuesday, April 04, 2006


This fall, RAINN (The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) will launch the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline, which will be the web's first secure hotline service, offering live help 24 hours a day. RAINN is creating the Online Hotline in response to user demand for a new way to access services. While calls to RAINN’s telephone hotline continue to increase, research and observation are finding an increased reluctance among young people to use the phone.

Because nearly half of all rape victims are under 18, and fully 80% are under 30, RAINN sees the need to respond to the growing desire to communicate online instead of by phone. Already, 75% of teens and young adults, and 74% of all women, get the majority of their health information online. But, in the case of sexual assault victims, what they're finding is pretty scary. The places where they are currently getting help online — chat rooms, blogs, message boards, and listserves — all have major flaws. The people providing help are untrained and unsupervised. And the sites are not secure, so postings are not confidential. After studying the current situation, it became clear that RAINN needed to create a safe and secure service that could provide live help from trained volunteers. Their solution is the Online Hotline, launching this September.

The US Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), excited about the potential of this unique technology to help a new generation of users, are providing discretionary grants to develop the service. Diane Stuart, director of OVW, commented that, "OVW is pleased to support the development of RAINN's Online Hotline. It is an essential new service for a generation of victims seeking help. I congratulate RAINN for its forward thinking on this most important issue."

Bob Flores, the administrator of OJJDP, observed that, "Victims who receive help are significantly more likely to report their attack to police and to participate in prosecution. By drawing in hundreds of thousands of victims who would never use a telephone hotline, we expect the Online Hotline to play a vital role in our efforts to combat sexual violence and help its victims."

One click will take users from www.rainn.org to the Online Hotline. There, they will anonymously request help and be connected to a trained volunteer for live, one-on-one support. While there will be a great deal of advanced technology at work behind the scenes, the user's screen will be as clear and intuitive as instant messaging, so there will be no learning curve.

Of course, privacy and confidentiality are of the utmost importance. In order to ensure confidentiality for Online Hotline users, RAINN worked with their tech partners to build a new communications infrastructure that integrates security and anonymity at every level. The application will not capture the IP address of users, so sessions can't be traced back to them. They developed a "chat controller" that, once it connects a user with a trained volunteer, breaks the link to ensure that no record of the session or user remains. And, transcripts of sessions will not be stored.

The pilot launch of the Online Hotline will begin in May, with a national launch expected in September. For more info, visit www.rainn.org/programs/online-hotline/ . (Source: Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network)

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