Spotlight on Victim Support Online (VSO) : Interview with Lorna Muscat, Project Manager at SOS Malta

10 Aug Spotlight on Victim Support Online (VSO) : Interview with Lorna Muscat, Project Manager at SOS Malta

This is the second article of our themed month 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 we interviewed Lorna Muscat, Project Manager at SOS Malta, to get her take on VSO and learn more about SOS Malta’s role in the project.

Hi Lorna!Thanks for your time today. VSO has been up and running for 3 months now, how do you think it’s been going so far?

VSO is a really interesting joint initiative and it’s been a great opportunity to collaborate with Victim Support Malta, bringing together our joint expertise in different areas to provide this innovative service. Its always tough when something new starts to get people to know about it and to use it, slowly we are building the clientele. For the type of service we are providing its important to build up trust and recognition and we are trying to do that through marketing and getting ourselves known by different stakeholders, as well as providing a quality service. I believe we are heading in the right direction.

Could you elaborate on SOS Malta’s role in the project?

SOS Malta brings with it 5 years of experience of running Kellimni.com, which is an online support service for young people (www.kellimni.com ). After 5 years we have learnt a lot about what works and what doesn’t, what the challenges are, but also the impact of such a service. We have built up a solid infrastructure to ensure that the service is delivered in the most effective manner through volunteers and professionals. All this learning was brought into devising Victim Support Online. As such, we have collaborated with VSM to develop the service, and the infrastructure used to ensure the chat and the website are operational. Additionally, we provide support to the marketing, contacting of stakeholders and overall project management (the boring admin part!).

What is the relationship between Kellimni and VSO?

Kellimni.com and VSO are very similar in terms of the service they are trying to provide, being online support and information. The structure and the technology behind them are the same. Both are run by volunteers and professionals; the volunteers are provided with training, in fact the volunteers of both services were trained together this year. However, the target groups are very different, and therefore, we need to communicate with them in a different way. Kellimni.com is specifically targeted at young people and the problems that they face, which may not be related to crime. These could be, for example, problems such as bullying, family break-up, depression, self harm and others. The way we communicate about these issues, in particular on the website through the information and videos is specifically targeted at that audience. On the other hand, VSO is specifically targeted at victims of crime, these may indeed be young people, however, the kind of advice given and the referrals given will be different as people are accessing this chat for different reasons, and often it is legal advice.

I truly believe these projects are complementary and reinforce each other. Online support services are where things are moving towards and it is an excellent way of providing immediate frontline support and advice, steering people in the right direction to be able to get further help and solve their own issues.

Do you have any knowledge/experience of online support services abroad? What’s your take on online support, and how do you think it fits into the Maltese context?

When we first started out with Kellimni.com there were very few examples of the kind and we were, in a sense, spearheading a change in the way we provide support. 5 years on and technology has continued to change and grow and the way we interact online has increased for all sectors, not just young people and so, now, yes there are examples of other online support for different social issues abroad. At Kellimni, we are now trying to take it to the next level and have created an App that allows people to access support without entering the website, it works a bit like Whatsapp and allows us to be more flexible in our service.

I believe that online support really works for Malta. First off, Malta is quite a techy nation, we love our phones, social media and our technology, regardless of our age. Additionally, anonymity is a big issue for people living in such a small island, victims may worry people will see them going to doctors, counsellors, social services etc., which can put them off seeking this support. With online support, people are able to access that first line of support in privacy and with anonymity.

Furthermore, whilst some people may prefer traditional methods of communication through the phone or face-to-face, online support provides an additional service for those who find it easier to express themselves in written words and anonymously. Through this service we are providing a valuable addition to different services available to ensure we are reaching out to those most marginalised from mainstream services.

What do you think could be improved?

Obviously, ideally we would have more hours of chat time available, the long term vision is to have 24/7 support on both services, however, whilst our service is run by volunteers, we do need support and funding to enable us to maintain the infrastructure, update technology, market the service and manage the volunteers, to ensure we have a truly professional service. Additionally, we need to do more outreach and marketing to ensure people know about us and trust us. Only through reaching out will we be able to provide the support we are capable of providing. For all this to happen, we will continue to strive to ensure more funding and support to keep this service expanding.

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