Domestic abuse live chat support service launched by Suffolk police

A domestic abuse helpline will now operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week Picture: Getty Images

A pioneering live chat service to support victims of domestic abuse has been launched by Suffolk police - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

A pioneering live chat service where victims of domestic abuse can communicate safely with police has been successfully piloted by Suffolk Constabulary. 

The new live chat support makes use of multiple safety functions, including a quick exit button, which diverts to the BBC and leaves no trace of the interaction in the browser history.

During the first Covid-19 lockdown between April and June 2020, there was a 65% increase in calls to the national domestic abuse helpline, prompting a new directive to increase support for victims. 

In order to tackle this, Suffolk Police and Futr, the AI-driven chat-as-a-service provider, ran a pilot live chat scheme, before expanding the programme to run a dedicated domestic violence pilot - capable of handling more serious queries.

Rob Jones, assistant chief constable at Suffolk Police.

ACC Rob Jones said the live chat service helps victims who do not want to speak on the phone - Credit: Suffolk Police

During the one-month pilot scheme, 72.5% of interactions were with new users and 27.5% were returning users, showing the frequency of repeat interactions the force sees.

The average conversation length was 40 minutes, indicating that victims were comfortable having a detailed and in-depth conversation via online live chat.

Rob Jones, assistant chief constable at Suffolk Police, said a lot of victims of domestic abuse do not want to talk on the telephone. 

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He said: "UK police forces receive over 100 calls every hour regarding domestic abuse, which is only the tip of the iceberg as it is estimated that just 18% of all victims report domestic abuse to the authorities.

"A lot of people, especially when anxious or scared, don't want to speak on the telephone - often in a language that isn't their first language - to someone they don't know.

"Our live chat pilot has instant language translation which enables us to explain people's options better in their first language."

The government has broken a 100-year-long promise to pay police officers fairly, the Suffolk police federation chief said.

Suffolk police said the month-long pilot was a success - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

The force also found that live chat interactions helped make assessments using the DASH (domestic abuse, stalking, harassment and honour-based violence) risk assessment easier.

Users were more likely to share more in-depth information and present that in a coherent way than when speaking over the phone or face to face to an officer.

In addition, the live chat log provided a permanent record of interactions which could be attached to a crime report, providing higher quality information than an officer's notes.

Andy Wilkins, chief executive of Futr, said: "Live chat is a really valuable tool in scenarios like these.

"Not only does it allow for untraceable, silent interactions with the emergency services, it also has the benefits of being multilingual and offering a permanent record of a victim's interactions with the police.

"For forces like Suffolk, live chat provides a level field where victims receive the same speed and consistency of response no matter how they access the service."

"We are very proud to have partnered with Suffolk Police on this important pilot and look forward to implementing a permanent live chat support service for domestic abuse victims in the coming months."