Why it's important to know how to talk to survivors

People who are not trained to talk to survivors often say the wrong thing even when they mean well. Some people do not understand that violence online is equal to, and sometimes has an even greater impact than, violence offline. Survivors often go through the same psychological trauma and face real threats in both instances. Therefore, it's important to talk to survivors in a safe environment, create trust, use respect and avoid judging and making assumptions.

Proper training on types of tech-related violence and their dynamics is helpful, as is knowing how to preserve privacy and protect data. You can learn more about how to deal with privacy and anonymity and how to store data in the Take Back the Tech! companion fact sheets.

What to consider

  • Understand that the survivor may be dealing with trauma, which can cause them to act strangely or exhibit physical distress. Be sure there is a trained person nearby to respond to trauma.
  • Recognise that violence is never the fault of the survivor.
  • Use sensitivity, and focus on the survivor's needs.
  • Build upon and respect any steps the survivor has already taken.
  • Look for heightened risks, such as dependence on technology for medical or assistive reasons.

Policies & protocols needed
  • Privacy: A confidential and safe environment can protect survivors from further abuse and make it easier for them to come forward.

  • Referrals: Have a list of professionals, organisations and law enforcement agencies you can connect the survivor to for legal, medical, mental health and technical assistance.

  • Training: Anyone talking to survivors should be up to date on ICT that is used to harass, threaten, monitor and locate survivors, so they can address the benefits and risks of different devices, tools and platforms.
What to watch out for
  • Disorganised or repeated interviewing process: Each time a survivor repeats her story she relives it, which can exacerbate trauma. Streamlining the interview/intake process will make this easier.

  • Failure to treat survivors as abuse victims: Survivors of tech-related violence should be treated as abuse victims in the offline world and given proper emotional support.

  • Victim-blaming: Survivors may come up against others who belittle their experience or blame them for the violence by being visible online. Women have a right to work, play and exercise opinions online. These cannot be used as "reasons" to excuse violence.
Law enforcement
Law enforcement officers should be fully educated on all types of tech-related violence and let go of any prior judgements toward technology use in order to best serve the survivor. Although tech-related violence may seem abstract, the effects can be the same as offline violence, and digital violence can lead to physical violence.
While legal avenues are still catching up with ICT trends, authorities should develop policies and protocols for responding to a variety of tech-related violence and find ways to take action on survivor complaints. Many survivors have been let down by law enforcement that refused to take complaints seriously or failed to explore ways to take action.
Survivor service providers

Because survivors may first access service providers through the provider's website, it is important for such sites to have clear and concise information with safety exits. Safety exits are quick buttons that survivors can press to exit from the site in case they are being monitored. The sites should also have information on how to delete digital traces of their visit. What survivors find on the website may determine whether or not they come in to meet with the provider for assistance.

Providers should know how to instruct survivors to use ICT more safely. You may also want to consider starting support groups specifically for survivors of tech-related violence so that these issues can be discussed in further detail. Otherwise, invite such survivors to existing support groups and be prepared to address the dynamics of tech-related violence in all groups.

Employers & intermediaries
Create an atmosphere that makes employees feel comfortable seeking help if they feel endangered in any way, and recognise that incidents of tech-related violence spill out into the offline world, including the workplace. Do not act as though the survivor is creating a problem in the office; it is the perpetrator who has created the problem, and the survivor should be supported in finding safety.
Unfortunately, intermediaries (telecoms, internet service providers and other platforms through which violence happens) do not have a good track record when it comes to responding to survivors, and therefore, many users do not even bother to use their reporting mechanism.

Intermediaries should use a clear, detailed definition of violence informed by experts in order to allow employees (and users) to recognise violence and label it as such. There is nothing worse than responding to a survivor's complaint by ignoring the reality she is facing. All form responses should be written in consultation with experts or resource persons who understand how to talk to survivors.
Schools and universities

Encourage open communication between students and staff by creating a comfortable and understanding environment. Be proactive and talk to students before any incidents appear. Consider incorporating discussions on tech-related violence into lesson plans, school assemblies or other activities.

It's important for staff, including teachers, to be familiar with devices, tools, platforms and applications that are popular among the student population so they can spot issues as they arise and know how to respond. Minors already have fewer resources than adults for dealing with interpersonal violence, and an anti-tech attitude or ignorance about ICT can keep students from seeking help at school.