It is no coincidence that StrongHearts Native Helpline has chosen to roll out online chat advocacy amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic created the perfect storm for victim-survivors of domestic and dating violence by having to shelter-in-place with their abusive partners. This necessitated a swift response by StrongHearts administrators who explained that feature was always a planned milestone but it was reached sooner and with a sense of urgency.
Launching on Monday, May 18 at 8 a.m. CT, chat advocacy at StrongHearts Native Helpline will enable victim-survivors, friends and relatives to connect with an advocate using an online chat service. Users can connect with a highly-trained advocate in a free, anonymous and confidential one-on-one chat session. There is no need to download an app or any software to use it. Users can simply click the chat icon on the StrongHearts Native Helpline website 24/7.
This new tool increases accessibility for individuals who may be hearing impaired or those who may be uncomfortable or unable to vocalize a call for support.
“StrongHearts is really proud to be increasing access to our culturally-appropriate advocacy services during a time of great need,” said Liz Carr (Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians), senior Native affairs advisor. “Implementation of digital advocacy not only enhances our ability to provide advocacy services but also improves accessibility for survivors by offering a new way to reach out.” Carr added that the order to shelter-in-place created yet another barrier to using a phone to access advocacy services and that without an alternative option, survivors were at a greater risk.
According to StrongHearts Services Coordinator Joy Samuelson (Standing Rock Sioux Tribe), the general advocacy skills used by the advocates will be the same, but prompt responses via chat will be key to providing contacts with the same level of support services they would get when calling StrongHearts. There will be few differences in how advocates respond to individuals in need of assistance; it’s tonality and how things may come across via chat that will be a new challenge.
“I am confident in our advocates and the help they provide our communities,” said Samuelson. “This will truly be an important service we provide, especially given the current state of things with Covid-19. We’re hoping to reach more people who may need us.”