The Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center has officially launched its new online chat feature, a program that will allow members of the University community to anonymously chat with an advocate. The chat feature will be available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is free to use.

Amy Burandt, SAPAC program manager for survivor care, came up with the idea for the new feature in collaboration with SAPAC Director Holly Rider-Milkovich. The two women began discussing the idea for an online chat feature about two years ago and began the process of creating and implementing the program about a year ago.

Ensuring users’ confidentiality was a primary concern when selecting a chat provider. SAPAC decided to work with an Ann Arbor-based company, Alark, on the project.

Next, the technical staff worked to set up the chat on SAPAC’s website in a way that would be visible and accessible. SAPAC began piloting the feature in a beta version last semester, during which interns would test it a few days a week to work out any bugs that might have come up.

Given the new feature is intended for use by the University community, users are asked to enter their Kerberos password to verify their identity, although this information is not revealed to the SAPAC expert responding to the chat request. Users are also shown a detailed explanation about confidentiality and who will be corresponding with them.

The chat will be manned by an on-call advocate at the SAPAC office, which could be an intern, Social Work student, or professional staff member. The chat can support up to about five different users at once, though Burandt mentioned that there has not been enough traffic on the site yet to know for sure the maximum capacity.

The goal of this program is to make SAPAC’s support services more accessible to more people, especially those who may not feel comfortable speaking to someone face-to-face or on the phone.

“We’re really feeling like folks are really shying away from talking on the phone … so we thought this might be a nice step for students who don’t like to do that,” Burandt said.

She added that national programs such as 1in6 have been successful in being able to reach out to male survivors through their online chat features, and SAPAC hopes to see that benefit as well.

Burandt said she doesn’t anticipate the feature becoming so busy that the SAPAC office needs to hire additional staff, but if it does become a problem, they will adapt.

For now she said she hopes people will log on to ask any questions they may have and feel comfortable reaching out to their staff.

The University offers many resources for counseling and reporting for survivors of Sexual Assault. A listing of available services can be found here. In addition, the University’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center staffs a 24/7 crisis line at (734) 936-3333.

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