Wednesday, 08 May 2019 12:09

‘Hello Cass’ chatbot service to tackle family, sexual violence launches in Victoria

Hello Cass founder Emma Koster Hello Cass founder Emma Koster

An SMS chatbot — Hello Cass — aimed at providing helpful, anonymous information about family and sexual violence  is now available in Victoria, with a national release in the pipeline.

Hello Cass — founded by Emma Koster of Good Hood — has been developed for people who have experienced violence, their support networks and for people who are worried about their own behaviour.

Developed via a mix of self-funding from Koster and the Myer Innovation Fellowship Koster was awarded in 2018, Hello Cass is described as “an anonymous, accessible and virtually instant way to find information on  —  and get help for  —  family and sexual violence”.

Hello Cass is looking for both government and private support to ensure the sustainability of the initiative.

When users text the Hello Cass number (0417 398 744), they start chatting with Cass, a chatbot who helps them find information on counselling services, safety planning, the legal system, financial assistance, personal wellbeing, intervention orders and more.

Koster says Hello Cass’s mission is to overcome barriers to disclosing and seeking support for family and sexual violence.

The information provided by Hello Cass has been created in consultation with response and prevention organisations from the women’s health sector and community health organisations, ensuring the information it provides is safe, accurate and helpful.

According to Hello Cass, the latest Personal Safety Survey data shows that 9 in 10 women did not report their most recent incident of sexual assault  –  and even when women do seek assistance through the justice system, “rates of conviction for sexual violence are shockingly low”.

And for Aboriginal women, Hello Cass says up to 90% of incidents of family violence are not disclosed or reported, “laying plain how intersecting forms of discrimination and marginalisation amplifies the effects of family and sexual violence”.

“There has been a global shift in the conversation around family and sexual violence  —  or violence against women more generally  —  but the number of people who don’t report or seek assistance is huge,” says Koster.

“Fear, shame, language, location, disability, not feeling like they’ll be believed, not feeling like something is ‘bad’ enough  –  these are just some of the barriers or reasons why people, particularly women, aren’t disclosing the violence they have experienced.

“With Hello Cass, I am working to address these barriers. It’s a text message, so users can delete the message history  –  and save the number as anything they like in their phone. It doesn’t rely on having 3G or 4G connectivity, so it’s accessible for women and communities in remote or regional areas. It’s a chatbot, which removes the anxiety many people feel about taking that first, sometimes breathtakingly big, step to find the words to tell their story to another person.

“I’m trying to do something different through Hello Cass. We know the statistics: 1 in 4 Australian women from age 15 will experience family violence and 1 in 5 will experience sexual violence. We know how lethal violence against women is, and yet change is unacceptably slow. So through Hello Cass, I wanted to make something that wasn’t just about amplifying the things we say – but changing the way we have the conversation.

“It was also important for me to not just talk about violence in relation to family or domestic violence; but violence against women more generally. Women exist beyond the roles of partners and mothers, we exist beyond our relationship to a man, and it is essential —particularly for young women  —  that we articulate sexual violence both together and separately from family violence. And Australian women have told us as much.”

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired in 2020. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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