Hello Cass: A chatbot for people experiencing violence

Thursday 08 August 2019

Two women sit at a table in a cafe discussing something. One woman is holding a phone.

Hello Cass gives people experiencing family or sexual violence a discreet, safe way of accessing information and support.

Simply text “hello”, and the chatbot will guide you through a series of prompts to provide relevant information. While it is neither the police nor a licenced counsellor, Hello Cass is still friendly and conversational, making sure to remind people it’s never their fault if they experience violence.

The chatbot launched from Collingwood-based tech and communications startup, Good Hood, earlier this year. We chatted to founder Emma Koster.

Where did you come up with the idea behind Good Hood, using tech and communications for social development?

Emma: I started in 2013 as a way of kind of being a bit of a conduit between community organisations and business – I wanted to find a way of creating projects for community or for social purpose and supporting organisations that might not have access to technical consultants. It was early on in the Corporate Social Responsibility era, and it didn't turn out quite the way I thought it would, but I've kept plugging away doing various consultancies with it, and now a lot more people understand the concept of Social Enterprises, so I think momentum is really growing.

How does Hello Cass help support people experiencing violence?

The SMS format is really discreet. You don’t need to google it or download an app, you don’t need to speak to an actual person on the phone – it can be really confronting to speak to a human straight away. There’s been research which shows that once someone has disclosed or reached out for help before, they are more likely to do it again.

We chose SMS for the chatbot as it’s the most accessible platform we could find…you don’t have to have any data – it’s just old-school mobile reception, and it’s a private way of getting information through.

Where did the idea come from?

I was working in Germany for a few years and volunteering in a short-term accommodation for new arrivals and refugees. I became aware that family and sexual violence was a huge problem, because there was nowhere to put people, and there wasn’t any support on the ground. I was working at a tech company at the time and I got to thinking about ways of getting information out. The one thing that everyone did have was a mobile phone.

What can prevent people from reaching out?

Fear, shame, social stigma, people feeling like they won’t be believed. Sometimes it becomes a situation with intersectional dimensions, particularly in communities where English is a second language and women may not know their rights or the local laws, or the abusive person is lying to them and controlling their access to information.

Hello Cass is also designed to provide resources to individuals who want to change their behaviour. Can you tell us why this is included?

Working on the same premise of barriers to help-seeking behaviour, if someone has identified that their behaviour is harmful or abusive – it’s still difficult to take that first step and make that phone call. Hello Cass allows that level of anonymity, and encourages them that getting help is the right thing to do. We know this is a problem, so let's help them to get the help they need. 

What do you have planned for Hello Cass in the future?

Next I’d love to have it available in different languages, so we are looking for partners and funding opportunities to help make this happen. We’re also looking for partners to collaborate with so we can pilot in the other states.  We've built it to be really simple to scale, but as the information is based on jurisdictions and local community services, there's a bit of work to do to localise the content. We are also about to head into our next development phase, so Hello Cass will be available via a web interface at the end of August. 

Use Hello Cass to access information and support by texting ‘hello’ to 0417 398 744.

Hello Cass also helps people who want to help a loved one. Find out more on the Hello Cass website. 

For sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling with a live person, you can also call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732.

If you’re in an emergency situation call 000.

 

Photo: Hello Cass founder Emma Koster discusses the chatbot at local social enterprise STREAT.

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