Our advocates go through a 40-hour training program where they learn about the context of violence in our society, the dynamics of abuse and unhealthy relationships, and ways to empower victims of dating abuse to make their own informed decisions.
Many teens and young adults prefer having conversations online and/or through text messaging but for advocates it can take some work to translate traditional in-person or telephone advocacy into digital advocacy. Language choice is very important on chats/texts since you have to use words instead of your voice to convey a tone of empathy and understanding. Since building rapport digitally can be difficult, we teach our advocates to use friendly, reflective, validating and empowering language, which helps chatters/texters feel safe to speak.
It can be tricky to empathize, validate, explain abuse, and create movement in a conversation when providing advocacy digitally.
We train our advocates to use 3-part statements to move the conversation along. The three parts are: 1) Empathize/Validate, 2) Explain/Clarify, and 3) Ask Exploratory/Action Questions. Making 3-part statements lets the chatter/texter know that the advocate has heard their concerns and experiences, and wants to move toward options that work for them.
After completing training, our advocates receive an additional 4 to 6 hours of one-on-one practice and coaching with a supervisor. During this time, they work to become comfortable with the chat and text platforms that we use. We find that after this training, our advocates have a lot of knowledge but still may feel nervous about putting it all together in a chat. On the first few practice chats, this may show in the slowness of their responses. But after just a few practice chats, most advocates become more confident and adept. The feedback that advocates get from supervisors after each practice chat helps solidify all of the information that they’ve learned in training and show them how to use it practically when talking to victims and survivors.
Another important component of training is shadowing an advocate and bringing the trainee into the call/chat center to watch live chats. This provides an incredibly useful framework for everything they’re learning.
Because users may disconnect from a chat or text abruptly, we want to make sure that our advocates address the topic of safety planning quickly when any potentially dangerous situation is brought up.
One huge benefit of providing digital advocacy is the ability to place links to supplementary information directly within a chat or text. Linking to loveisrespect.org or the hotline.org allows our advocates to provide comprehensive information to chatters and texters about healthy relationships, signs of abuse, safety planning, tips on how to safely break up, how to help a friend, and a lot more. Links to content do not replace individualized advocacy, but they provide supplementary background information to ensure that chatters and texters are receiving the knowledge they are seeking. Due to the sometimes limited space wherein an advocate can connect to a chatter or texter, linking to loveisrespect.org ensures that we are providing the best advocacy possible in a short time span.
At the end of training, we have a “scavenger hunt” for our database and commonly used resources, so that our advocates become familiar with a large amount of resources and how to quickly locate them. We also provide specific training on how to manage, speak with or disengage off-target contacts, because it can sometimes be harder to disconnect on chat than it is when talking on the phone. “Off-target” contacts would be people inappropriately utilizing the service, those looking for services we don’t provide, etc.
To save time, our advocates use canned responses (short-cuts for commonly used responses and links) as a framework, and then are able to personalize their advocacy and responses around these.