01 Jun Let’s T@lk!
By Karl Grech, VSO Coordinator
I recently attended the T@LK Conference in Lisbon, representing Victim Support Malta (VSM). The Conference was an opportunity to bring together all the stakeholders involved in Project T@LK, an intra-European project focusing on online victim support, led by the Portuguese Association for Victim Support (APAV). Victim Support Malta (VSM), Rikosuhripaivystys Suomessa (RK), the Human Rights Monitoring Institute (HRMI), the Catalan Society of Victimology (SCV) & Victim Support Europe (VSE) were all present at the Conference.
Project T@lk is an ambitious and innovative project, that seeks to raise awareness about the benefits of online support for victims of crime; identify future possibilities in terms of online support; adapt victim support services’ response to victims’ current needs and expectations about victim support; and make victim support services accessible for victims who cannot access regular, more traditional services. T@lk hopes to identify best online support practices in the EU, create guidelines for online victim support, train professionals to implement an online support tool, and finally, implement an efficient and reliable online support tool.
I personally think that this project is very interesting for various reasons. Firstly, because there are numerous benefits to having a handbook of standardized procedures available to all current and future online victim support services across the European Union. Any victim support service within the EU will be able to request the technical toolkit, necessary to set up their own online victim support service in their individual countries. This will cost the organization a fraction of the price when compared to the amount needed if they had to start it up from scratch. Moreover, this will allow for new and exciting opportunities, particularly for countries which are considerably large in size and do not have many victim support services on offer.
The idea of having an online system, which is easy to set up, is intuitive and user-friendly, is likely to resonate with many victim support services across the EU, who may consider incorporating the online platform into their generic service. In so doing, they will be able to reach out to individuals who live in geographically disperse areas, are bed-ridden or have a stigma against face-to-face services.
The Conference was a great learning experience for me, and I was particularly struck by the variety of approaches and methods adopted by different partners. For instance, the Finnish Victim Support agency, who run an online chat and e-mail support service, operate in a different manner from Victim Support Online. In Malta our mentors and volunteers run the victim support online service from a single office. In fact, we believe that, even though volunteers have undergone a 40 hour training programme, they are not trained in the helping profession, and can undoubtedly benefit from the mentor’s direct support. Thus, ensuring that both mentors and volunteers operate from the same room is considered as a safeguard for both service users and volunteers. In the event that the volunteer were to feel overwhelmed and/or not know how to respond to a service user, the professional would be able to guide them and help them process the situation.
Conversely, the Finnish Victim Support Agency prefers to run the service remotely. Mentors are connected remotely through a program via audio and microphone, meaning that mentors and volunteers are not in the same physical space. My instinctual reaction to this was of scepticism. However, on further reflection I understood that geography and space are the drivers behind this choice. Whilst in a relatively small island like Malta, geographical location is not a major concern, it represents a challenge in a comparatively larger jurisdiction, such as Finland. The Finnish Victim Support agency would likely struggle to retain both volunteers and mentors if they had a policy where everyone involved in the running the service had to be under one roof.
By way of conclusion, as I processed the meeting and the different organizations that form part of project T@LK, I understood that we all come from different cultural realities which might impose differences in the way we work on a particular task. Yet there shouldn’t be a specific standardized conceptualisation of a service to be imposed on an organization. As long as there are the necessary safeguards which keep the organization and their service users safe. Thus, discussing and presenting each other’s findings is an interesting and necessary exercise to increase awareness, efficacy and overall satisfaction with the methods used in online support in different national and cultural realities. Let’s T@lk!
Project co-financed by the Justice Programme of the European Union. Promoted by the Portuguese Association for Victim Support (APAV) and with the partnership of Human Rights Monitoring Institute, Victim Support Finland, Victim Support Malta, Catalan Society of Victimology and Victim Support Europe.