Moving to End Sexual Assault (MESA) has served the community since 1972 as the only sexual violence resource center serving Boulder County, Colorado.
Insights into Serving Clients Remotely
Certainly, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live and work. While many aspects of our daily routines have slowed or halted, some aspects continue despite increased restrictions in movement and social interactions.
As a sexual violence resource center embedded within a community mental health clinic, Governor Polis has deemed our services essential. As a proclaimed ‘critical business’ it is our duty to ensure survivors of sexual violence have continued access to advocacy, emotional support, and community resource referrals.
This unprecedented time of mandatory stay-at-home orders has required increased creativity, flexibility, and openness in thinking about how to continue serving a diverse population of survivors. As we have been communicating with clients in new and different ways, we have received some unexpected feedback regarding remote services.
Remote services as a more comfortable model
The first lesson we are learning is remote services can be a more comfortable model for some people, with increased privacy and anonymity as two perceived benefits. Attending virtual appointments eliminates the need to check-in with front desk staff or sit in a public waiting room with others. For some clients, this private platform reduces the stress and anxiety associated with in-person appointments. Further, it reduces re-traumatization by removing any possible triggers that may be present in traditional service environments.
Remote services as a more accessible model
Second, we are learning that remote services are more accessible for those who struggle to secure transportation to and from appointments. Digital platforms remove the need to make sure the car is running or arrange for public transportation or rideshares. Clients that require childcare and persons with disabilities echoed this feedback, stating that accessing services from home eliminates common barriers to attending appointments in-person.
Remote services as a safer model
Another point of feedback we are incorporating is the perception of remote services as a safer modality for systematically oppressed community members based on race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, and citizenship status. Many underrepresented groups view public spaces as unsafe. In public spaces, vulnerable clients have become targets for abuse, ranging from quiet judgments communicated through unfriendly stares to verbal and physical assaults. Undocumented immigrant clients in particular risk their safety when commuting to appointments. They face the threat of being stopped and questioned or even deported because of their status. These reasons illustrate why remote services may be a safer option for connecting to service providers.
With the Coronavirus pandemic in full swing, we are trying a different way to live, work, and communicate. This shift has allowed us to rethink the way we provide services. As we experiment with different ways of connecting with clients, we are gaining insight into why remote models may be a better fit than traditional services for some. Even after social distancing measures end, we should consider continuing to offer remote services to clients who find them more comfortable, accessible, and safe.
Galit Erez, MS
Moving to End Sexual Assault (MESA)