Leveraging technology to support women experiencing violence during the pandemic:
Challenges and opportunities
Louisiana communities faced many problems during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the state’s longstanding battle with reducing violence against women. The consistent rise of domestic abuse and sexual violence, coupled with Louisiana’s stay-at-home order, presented unique challenges for those working to combat violence against women. Rapidly changing pandemic conditions forced organizations that typically rely on in-person communications and community-based interventions to shift their outreach efforts and direct services to a mostly virtual format. This study, led by Fanny Ramirez, Ph.D., sheds light on how organizations serving women experiencing violence in Louisiana (e.g., domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking) adapted to the pandemic by leveraging technology and provides a framework for identifying and overcoming challenges in reaching this vulnerable population.
- 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.