Q&A with Roxanne Leitao

“Given the recent rise of abusive, controlling and coercive behaviours enabled by modern technology, alongside a general lack of know how in how to deal with these issues, I felt that this was the best field for me to apply my efforts on over the 3 years of my PhD.”

Roxanne Leitao is a website designer and developer. Respect has been fortunate enough to have Roxanne volunteering her time and skills in the last year to design and build our new website.

Roxanne’s work focusses on interactive design research and practice. She has been involved in a wide range of projects related to healthcare and security, with audiences varying from children and adults with chronic conditions, to clinicians, nurses, law-enforcement agents, and military surgeons. Selected work by Roxanne can be found here:  http://roxanneleitao.com/web/ 

Roxanne is currently completing a PhD at the UAL looking into the use of technology in abusive relationships, and how we can improve support for victims experiencing technology-enabled violence and abuse.

Why did you choose Respect to volunteer with, what was different about this domestic violence organisation that attracted you?

I have been volunteering within the domestic violence sector for a while and I’m currently doing a PhD that focusses on the forms of domestic abuse enabled by new technologies (e.g., smartphones and the Internet of Things). When I moved to London last year, I was attracted to Respect because of its work with perpetrators and male victims, but also by the fact that Respect is an accrediting organization, delivering training and best practice for professionals working in this field.

Respect’s new website is now live. What were the challenges throughout the consultation, design and website building process?

I think the main challenges were related to time a resource management. Especially when other commitments got in the way of being able to dedicate more time to my volunteering activities.

You are currently doing a PhD in technology and domestic violence at UAL. What prompted you to bring together your work as a digital interaction designer and the design of services for survivors?

I’ve always been interested in gender issues and have volunteered within the domestic abuse sector for a while. My work as a designer and researcher started in the field of technology for healthcare and later moved into cybersecurity and crime. Domestic violence is not only a grave human rights issue, it is also a crime and severely impacts upon the health of the victim and all those witnessing the abuse.

Given the recent rise of abusive, controlling and coercive behaviours enabled by modern technology, alongside a general lack of know how in how to deal with these issues, I felt that this was the best field for me to apply my efforts on over the 3 years of my PhD.

The PhD is practice-based, which means that I will be creating prototype solutions to improve support for victims experiencing technology-enable abuse. During the course of the PhD these prototypes will be tested and evaluated with the aim of creating a solution that works and can be implemented in real-world scenarios. It is fundamental to myself, and my supervision team, that we work alongside domestic abuse support workers and survivors to collaboratively create these solutions.

Why is it important to think about the digital services provided by domestic violence organisations and the way they are designed and built?

Especially looking at organisations that do not engage in a lot of face-to-face contact, much of the support provided is delivered over the phone, text, and/or email. Meaning that these often impersonal modes of communication are the primary experience of clients seeking support.

Improving the ways in which information can be communicated and shared is therefore of primary importance. Even more so when we consider the younger generations who are often more comfortable in seeking information and support from online sources.

Not only is managing and designing the experience of seeking online support essential, but it also offers us the opportunity to address barriers to communication, such as, translation and interpretation issues, office working hours and when clients are actually available, and allowing clients to access the information where and when they can. Technology has the potential, for example, to make support and information available even when support workers aren’t in the office and in languages that the support workers do not speak.

In what ways you do think this can help domestic violence survivors in future?

The exact form of the product and/or service that we will develop, during my PhD,  is part of an ongoing collaboration with survivors and support workers. It will be based on what they highlight as being their biggest needs and priorities. At this early stage we are reluctant to define exactly what it will be. What I can say is that it will be informed by real-world needs which we will use our technical expertise to bring to life, in a product/service that improves the current status quo for support workers and survivors.


If you work in the domestic abuse field, or are a survivor, and are interested in being part of this project (or just having a chat about it) please Roxanne on: r.leitao@csm.arts.ac.uk

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