News : A Helpline Uses Snapchat to Let Teens Talk About Abuse
Mumbia, India, March 16, 2016 -- Heard of Snapchat, right? The messaging app that lets you share videos, pictures, and doodles with friends for up to 10 seconds? Well, it’s being put to deadly serious use in India.
Snap Counsellors, an account on the messaging app, is helping teens speak up about relationship abuse.
It was launched by three Indians last week. "We already have an average of eight people reaching out to us everyday. There are almost 200 people watching the stories we are broadcasting on Snapchat," says Rajshekar Patil, the ad guy whose brainchild it is.
Raj is based in Mumbai and works with Apple’s global creative agency, TBWA\Media Arts Lab. He joined hands with Avani Parekh and Nida Sheriff to create the Snapchat account.
The helpline hopes to tackle a widespread yet under-reported problem.
Relationship abuse or intimate partner abuse is common among Indian teens. But victims are scared to talk about it or message someone because partners often take the phone and email passwords to check on them.
And that’s why Snapchat’s self-destruct feature makes it ideal for a helpline. All messages get deleted within 10 seconds.
Safe from prying eyes
Raj got the idea when someone introduced him to the app. In advertising, he saw brands trying to jump on to Snapchat all the time.
"I was amazed by how quickly the app had caught on with youngsters and how they had their own space here," he tells Tech in Asia. It was also non-intrusive.
Plus, he’d heard several stories of relationship abuse from friends, which never really went anywhere. So, why not take the opportunity to create social innovation?
He contacted Avani Parekh, a trained counsellor, who had been running a free website and a Whatsapp service. Nida, who runs Chayn India, joined in.
"We realised that privacy and secrecy are super important for those in abusive relationships, especially for teens and young people," says Nida.
Their Snapchat account addresses this need.
It also allows the Stories feature to be used to send out images and videos to encourage victims to come forward. For example, one of them says, "Snoop on my heart, not my phone," and another says, "Harsh words hurt as much as a hard fist."
"We can send out a series of pics and videos – of 10 seconds each – that can be viewed by our followers for a 24-hour period, and then gets deleted," explains Raj.
Combining counselling with technology
Avani provides the counselling and Chayn India provides the information support. They have created a downloadable guide on relationship abuse, stalking, and harassment.
Avani assisted agencies that deal with domestic violence and sexual assault for eight years, primarily with South Asian and other immigrant populations in the US.
"After moving to India and starting LoveDoctor, I saw that a lot of the violence in relationships was normalized and part of what we consider to be ‘true love,’ like possessiveness, is among major red flags of abuse," says Avani.
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She listens, advises, and sometimes directs people to the Chayn India website, where college students can find information on how to deal with abuse, how to file a police case etc.
Sometimes she asks victims to the LoveDoctor website, where teens can do a live chat. Most clients just want to talk and have someone to share their story with.
"We basically provide a compassionate, friendly outlet for people with questions – we serve as a best friend that asks you the tough questions. We won’t tell anyone what to do, but if a relationship sounds like it’s abuse, we don’t hesitate to say it sounds like you are in an abusive relationship," she says.
People in India aren’t the only ones using the helpline. "We have non-resident Indians in the US, Canada, and South Asia reaching out to us, and we advise everyone equally. We are open to teens around the world, including men," says Raj.
Although Snap Counsellors is directed toward teens, it receives cases from women too.
More Indians are online now than ever before, and this includes women and young people who face domestic violence. "In the long run, the idea is to use technology for change and community," says Raj.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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