Skip to content
  • Blog
  • 8th Mar 2022

Gender based violence helplines

Strengthening the first line of defense with behavioral science

BIT’s work against gender-based violence began in 2017. We have engaged men and boys in preventing violence, promoted help-seeking behaviors among survivors of violence, and more. This blog outlines our recent work to help women navigate and access survivor services in Eastern Europe and Latin America.

Gender-based violence (GBV) helplines save lives. The experiences that women have on helpline calls can be the difference between finding safety or remaining in a violent situation.

Ideally, helpline operators are able to offer high-quality guidance in real time, as well as connect callers to protection, physical and mental health services, and legal support. But if the caller hangs up, they lose access to this critical care.

Often, survivors call a helpline early on in the complex process of seeking help. During this time, their resolve to get help may be weaker. A negative experience of any kind during the call can deter them. Even a few additional rings are enough to cause callers to hang up at higher rates. Quality assistance is key.

Since 2019, BIT has been working with GBV helplines worldwide, applying findings from behavioral science to strengthen the support they provide and to encourage more survivors to use them. 

Empowering helpline operators in Georgia

In Georgia, we’re partnering with ​​the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to improve the national helpline for women, 116-006. We’re strengthening how operators handle calls to ensure more people get the assistance they need.

In close collaboration with UNDP partners, operators and survivors, we developed a new protocol and call script to address the two main groups of people who use the helpline: survivors and bystanders. 

With the revised script, operators help survivors create a tailored safety plan. For calls with bystanders, operators provide simple tips to better support people experiencing violence (i.e., wait for a private moment to talk, listen and don’t judge, direct them to call 116-006 for specialized support).

Taking up referral services in Colombia

In Colombia, we’re working with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the national 155 helpline to encourage more callers to take up referral services. 

The helpline’s main purpose is to help women navigate and access survivor services. However, there’s little data on whether callers actually use these referrals. Our partners identified that a lack of follow up may be contributing to this challenge.

To help address it, we are applying behavioral insights to design and evaluate new follow up call scripts. These scripts include talking points around safety plan strategies, debunking the sunk-costs fallacy, and reciprocity behavioral messages. We expect to start implementing follow up calls near the end of 2021 and analyze the results in 2022.

Finding new channels to reach survivors in El Salvador

We partnered with the Ciudad Mujer helpline in El Salvador to pilot new channels to reach GBV survivors. Our team helped Ciudad Mujer contact more women in their database using WhatsApp, one of the world’s most popular mobile social apps and the preferred channel for health-related communications in Latin America.

Reaching women through channels that they can easily access is crucial. About 25% of the women who received behaviorally-informed WhatsApp messages chose to reply via WhatsApp, while only 7% chose to reply with a phone call. Based on these results, Ciudad Mujer has chosen to open WhatsApp as a potential service channel.

To learn more about our gender equity work, read previous blog posts in our 16 days of activism against gender-based violence series. For more information about our helpline projects, please contact us here.


Want to learn more?