01 Aug Learn more about our Victim Support Online Service: Interview with our VSO Service Coordinator
This is the first article of our themed month focusing on Victim Support Online. Victim Support Online is an online service for victims of crime offered by Victim Support Malta, in partnership with SOS Malta. For more info check out :www.vso.org.mt
Today I interviewed my colleague Karl, VSO Service Coordinator, to gain some insight into VSO and learn more about the reasons why he got involved, and his aspirations and hopes in relation to the service.
Hi Karl, thanks for agreeing to spare some time for this! So, if I am not mistaken, VSO has been up and running for approximately three months… how has it been so far?
Well, as it’s a new service, the past three months have been a roller-coaster of experimentation and promotion. We have worked to inform the general public about VSO and improve its visibility. The service seems to be increasing in popularity, as within the past three weeks we have received more than 800 page views. Not only are users getting in touch via chat & e-mail, but they are also checking out the website, including the FAQ section, where there is information about victims’ rights, child abuse, domestic violence and all types of crimes. We are receiving a growing amount of e-mails, and in the recent weeks chat has also picked up.
That’s great to hear! What pushed you to get involved in VSO in the first place?
There are many things which I like about the concept of online victim support. First off, I am particularly interested in online counselling, especially counselling which is done via the modality of chat. I think that chat provides service users with anonymity and empowers them to have complete control. Using the online system, the individual can voice issues faster than one would using face-to-face methods. Secondly, I perceive victim support online as an active space which promotes social justice. This is because information regarding different types of crimes is accessible on the website. This information helps service users become aware of their rights, in case they have experienced a specific type of crime.
I was also happy to have the opportunity to challenge myself further by managing a new service. I am not the type of person to jump into opportunities such as this, however I liked both the NGO and the idea, and decided to embark on this journey.
What do you think is the most challenging aspect of VSO?
Definitely attracting service users towards the support function of VSO, as promoting the website and increasing website traffic don’t seem to be very difficult. Getting adults who have experienced a specific type of crime to access a computer, click on a chat and reveal their experience in a socio-cultural context where there is still a negative stigma attached to seeking help, is definitely a challenge. However, I think that thanks to our growing understanding of online social behaviour, and increased promotion, the service will become more and more popular.
Can you give us a general idea of the cases you’ve encountered so far? Have you noticed any trends (in terms of age, type of crime, type of assistance required)?
In terms of types of crime, domestic violence is the most pervasive. We have also had cases of discrimination, rape, defilement of minors, usury, and bullying. So far it seems like the average service user are women between the ages of 25 and 40. The type of assistance required is mostly referral to other services, as cases can be quite sensitive, and the scope of VSO is not to provide online counselling. We have referred to many different entities for counselling, emotional support or legal support. Some of the entities which we have referred to are Millennium Chapel, APPOGG, Victim Support Malta, Department of Industrial and Employment Relations, NCPE, Women’s Rights Foundation, & Caritas.
Referrals are very useful, as service users are generally stuck and do not know what they can do and what services are available to them. The volunteers at Victim Support Online can help the service user understand their needs. They can use their skills to make the service user more aware of the issue at stake and of the service that would be most useful for them to access. I feel that service users tend to be confused and perhaps slightly scared to ask for help in a face-to-face environment. It’s almost like it’s their last resort to ask for help. So, the online environment provides them with a safe space where they can focus better on their situation.
That’s very interesting! How often has online contact with users translated into face-to-face counselling? Do you think the online platform can provide a useful ‘first contact’ for people who are reluctant/sceptical about relying on support services?
Yes, I do think that it is a useful medium to interact with individuals who would otherwise not access these services. It can act as a gateway, motivating individuals to access other services, and helping ‘normalise’ the victim’s issue, as sometimes individuals have a tendency to think that this incident has occurred only to them.
We have no assurance that individuals end up contacting the organisations we refer them to. In the case of Victim Support Malta, so far we have had one individual who started accessing our emotional support service. It is difficult, as I think the effects of online support are not long-lasting : unless the appointment is made instantly, then one might lose the opportunity for the service user to access face-to-face services. Working online can be disappointing as service users might not turn up; but as I see it, at least they would have had contact with someone who showed that they cared, and provided them with useful tools to ‘help themselves’, such as phone numbers of agencies and information. The service user might have written all this down and might eventually use it when they feel more prepared to make the bold move and access face-to-face services. It’s kind of like planting a seed – it takes its time to develop and grow into a plant. The important part is that it needs to be planted first, in order for it to develop.
Finally, how do you envisage the future of VSO?
What I, personally, think that the future for VSO could entail is to incorporate online counselling into the user interface, where counsellors and clients can meet in a private chat room according to the service user’s needs.
In general, for the support service I would say longer hours! At the moment, eight hours a week is limiting the amount of weekly service users. Working remotely for the volunteers and mentors would also be a positive innovation, as with modern technology it is very easy to communicate and guide the volunteer when needed.
Thanks for your time Karl!Keep up the good work!