Research Highlights Social Media Funding, Staffing as Key Strategies to Support State’s Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault Organizations During Pandemic

April 22, 2021


Dr. Fanny Ramirez

Fanny Ramirez, Ph.D., LSU Assistant Professor of Media Law

BATON ROUGE—New research examines how Louisiana organizations and college centers working in the area of violence against women leveraged technology to adapt their services and outreach efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lead investigator and LSU Assistant Professor of Media Law Fanny Ramirez found that digital media were a vital and effective tool in helping organizations stay connected to current clients and reaching community members through education and health campaigns.

Rising domestic abuse and sexual violence rates worldwide, coupled with Louisiana’s stay-at-home order during COVID-19, presented unique challenges for those working to combat violence against women during the pandemic. How would such organizations engage in outreach efforts and offer services to women at risk with in-person interactions highly limited? To understand how Louisiana organizations adapted, Ramirez, an LSU Reilly Center Research affiliate who holds a joint appointment with the Manship School of Mass Communication and LSU’s interdisciplinary Center for Computation and Technology, interviewed 20 participants working in the area of violence against women in Louisiana: eight upper-level administrators from sexual violence prevention, support and education programs at higher education institutions and 12 from state-level accredited sexual assault and domestic violence centers.

Findings suggest that organizations had to rethink on-the-ground initiatives, reconstruct their media strategies, and adapt their direct care services to best serve women at risk of sexual and domestic violence during COVID. Remote work and the shift to virtual client services called for expansion and enhancement of digital communication means.

“Both organization types, accredited centers and higher education-based organizations, faced individual challenges due to the pandemic’s restrictions on in-person interactions, yet they were able to expand and enhance digital communication means to help women in need,” Ramirez said. “Centers quickly transitioned current clients to virtual services like telephone counseling, and university-based programs revised their social media messaging to be more empathetic and remind students of the services available to them during the pandemic.”

“The Reilly Center strives to connect the expertise of faculty and staff with real-world challenges in the pursuit of identifying solutions and best practices,” said Jenée Slocum, Reilly Center director. “This project does just that by leveraging Dr. Ramirez’s expertise to explore the utilization of technology in continuing to serve women experiencing violence during the unprecedented pandemic.”

Key Findings:

  • University programs combated pandemic challenges, such as the loss of personal connection, by thinking outside the box and developing new online engagement opportunities as well as changing their online messaging to be more compassionate and include pandemic-related health information.
  • Accredited centers experienced challenges advocating in hospitals and establishing connections with new clients due to pandemic restrictions but were very successful at quickly transitioning existing clients to virtual services. Like university programs, they also worked on continuing community outreach efforts using digital media and updating their messaging to remind Louisianans that services are still available. 

Implications and Next Steps:

  • Creating technology-focused partnerships between accredited centers and universities across Louisiana could enhance centers’ virtual outreach and social media presence. In addition to increased staffing for social media efforts, identifying policy adjustments and requesting funds for operational means in emergency situations or otherwise could alleviate the burdening financial aspect of limited social media campaign funding. Digital auditing via feedback from clients is also a great tool to strengthen university programs and centers’ digital media engagement.
  • Emotionally driven communication may reassure potential clients that it is safe to seek help from these centers. This would include communicating pandemic safety measures and promoting an environment of inclusivity. Both centers and university programs can benefit from emphasizing pandemic readiness and judgment-free services. 

The full research report and summary can be accessed via the Reilly Center’s research webpage.

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The Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs is partnership-driven, action-oriented and dedicated to exploring contemporary issues at the intersection of mass communication and public life. Its interdisciplinary approach draws together experts from diverse fields to advance research and dialogue. The intent is to inspire our communities to think deeply, take action, develop solutions and broaden knowledge. Underlying the Center’s endeavors is to strengthen and advance the Manship School’s national and state leadership in media and politics

LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication ranks among the strongest collegiate communication programs in the country, with its robust emphasis on media and public affairs. It offers undergraduate degrees in public relations, journalism, political communication, digital advertising and pre-law, along with four graduate degree programs: master of mass communication, Ph.D. in media and public affairs, certificate of strategic communication, and dual MMC/law degree.