Chapter 5: Staff and Personnel
This chapter introduces key personnel roles for staffing a technology abuse clinic, along with useful traits and qualifications for personnel, and important considerations for staff management. In this chapter, we discuss key managerial tasks that require personnel, as well as what we have found to be desirable traits in potential staff. We close this chapter with an important note on sustaining the well-being and morale of the clinic.
The content in this chapter applies equally to 'leadership' (management-type) personnel and technology consultants who may be paid staff or volunteers. However, because there are important additional considerations for technology consultants, we give them a separate discussion in the Technology Consultants chapter.
In this chapter:
The role descriptions provided below map onto key tasks that support the management of a technology abuse clinic. How these responsibilities are distributed across personnel will depend on the clinic’s organizational structure, including how or if each position is funded. For example, it is possible that the same person who takes on the responsibilities of the Technology Staff Manager also fulfills the role of Referral Coordinator and/or the Digital Abuse Specialist. However, in this section we discuss each role individually to illustrate the unique skill set and time commitments associated with each.
A referral coordinator is a staff member at the IPV partner agency who serves as an intermediary between technology consultants, IPV advocates, and clients. This includes soliciting and directing referrals for clients experiencing digital abuse and coordinating between technology consultants and other specialized care services, (e.g. a technology consultant documenting evidence of digital abuse and a legal advocate pursuing an order of protection.) Within currently existing technology abuse clinics, this role has been filled by a staff member of an IPV agency who takes on this role as part of their regular job responsibilities.
Technology Staff Manager
The technology staff manager is responsible for managing the recruitment, training, and ongoing support of technology consultants. Crucially, if the technology staff manager is not the same person as the referral coordinator, then the technology staff manager should ensure that referrals for incoming clients are staffed appropriately by technology consultants. This includes ensuring there are no conflicts of interest between the technology consultant and their assigned clients (e.g., close personal or professional relationship), and coordinating individual client accommodations, such as translation services, a safe meeting space, agreeable meeting times, or unreachability due to incorrect or out-of-date contact information.
Technology consultants work directly with clients to guide them in navigating their technology security. Because of their frontline role, we dedicate an entire chapter to practices around recruiting, training, and sustaining technology consultants (see Technology Consultants). Here, as with all staff members, we simply invite the readers of this toolkit to consider whether technology consultants would be unpaid volunteers, as they currently are in existing clinics, or if they would be part/full-time paid staff.
Digital Abuse Specialist (optional)
A digital abuse specialist refers to someone with expert knowledge of technology security, particularly in IPV contexts. This role serves as someone who can (1) act as a primary consultant for complex forms of digital abuse, and (2) facilitate on-going training with IPV advocates and/or technology consultants to enhance baseline knowledge of technology-specific safety planning.
The need for this role is situationally dependent. At CETA and MTC, which are both housed at universities with large computer science departments, this expertise is built into the structure of the clinics as the clinics are directed by digital abuse specialists. At the TECC Clinic, technology consultants are largely recruited from Seattle's technology hub and receive IPV training that complements their technology security knowledge. Over the years of volunteering, technology consultants from the TECC Clinic have gone on to become digital abuse specialists. We label this specific position as optional because a clinic that includes a strong knowledge base of technology security and IPV among its various partners and stakeholders can work collaboratively to fulfill the role description.
Traits and Qualifications
Technology abuse clinics bridge the worlds of survivor advocacy and technology literacy. Since it may be challenging or unlikely for individuals to possess extensive background in both advocacy and computer security, we recommend that potential candidates be trainable in areas in which they lack experience. In this section, we discuss several traits or qualifications to look for in all staff roles (not just technology consultants, for which we separately provide an interview guide and rubric in the Technology Consultants chapter) and potential ways to evaluate them:
Empathy, empowerment, and temperament
Empathy, or the ability to inhabit another person's worldview, informs all aspects of how a clinic is run. This is not just limited to survivors as working in spaces permeated by the effects of interpersonal violence is taxing for all involved, including staff. While it is always welcome to have coworkers who are understanding, patient, and compassionate, these traits are especially important in clinic settings for team morale and mental health (see Morale and Mental Health). It is important to carefully consider the temperament of those invited into the clinic space and how it will affect the overall dynamic.
Appreciation for the complexities of IPV
Good candidates should demonstrate an appreciation for the complexities of IPV and be open-minded about learning how to adopt trauma-informed, client-centered practices. This means that candidates should not minimize the dangers faced by IPV survivors, exhibit victim blaming tendencies, or otherwise identify with abusers. This also means displaying humility about their (and others’) ability to easily solve survivors’ problems, and acknowledging the responsibility they take on when working with clients.
Appreciation for the complexities of digital security
Although a technology abuse clinic does not require a team of computer security and privacy experts, the stakes of digital privacy are high. All technology clinic staff members ought to take technical rigor seriously, both when structuring advice to clients and when structuring internal practices (see Clinic IT and Data Management). Good candidates should be willing to put in the work required to learn best practices and stay educated on emerging technology trends that affect the information distributed to survivor, especially with the mindset of supporting survivors continued use of technology (e.g., not defaulting to suggesting to just "get off social media") Further, good candidates should be willing to develop and adhere to a data security plan that protects the private information of clients interacting with the clinic. This requires skills such as a baseline level of technology literacy, responsible personal digital security practices (e.g., using strong passwords, second-factor authentication), comfort with new technologies and tools, and ability to do independent research on emerging technology problems.
Morale and Mental Health
Finally, the morale and mental health of all clinic staff deserves consideration. Working with survivors of abuse and trauma can result in secondary trauma, defined as the emotional duress that results when an individual hears about the firsthand trauma experiences of another (US Dept of Health and Human Services). This phenomenon is well-documented and known in therapeutic and social work circles, but it may be a new concept for many who are interested in a technology abuse clinic.
While indicators of secondary trauma may present differently for different individuals, shared signs range from feeling numb, to feeling guilty, to feeling a lack of empathy, to feeling hypervigilant, cynical, and/or chronically exhausted. Importantly, the degree to which exposure to someone else’s trauma affects an individual is unequal, and alters and intensifies in relation to institutional and systemic oppressions like racism, (hetero)sexism, xenophobia, ableism, and classism.
Being mindful of and actively working to reduce the effects of secondary trauma are important not only for the well-being of clinic staff, but also for clients as clinic staff who experience secondary trauma can experience a reduced capacity to care for survivors, including unintentionally causing direct harm.
Incorporating an active practice to help reduce secondary trauma is important to remain effective in direct service work with survivors over time. We offer the following recommendations based on our experiences, some of which are more specific to the work of a technology abuse clinic than others.
Strategies for Protecting Morale and Mental Health
Offer flexibility in hours and time off
Be mindful of (over)scheduling technology consultants
Offer mental health care as part of insurance, if possible
Create structured and unstructured opportunities for sharing/debriefing after client appointments
Work to create a healthy and supportive team; the group dynamic and being comfortable with each other has important consequences for mental health
Normalize discussions of mental health and create space for disclosures of common signs of secondary trauma
Work to minimize the trauma encountered outside of client appointments (e.g.: reading material before falling asleep, doom scrolling, images consumed on television)