After HopeLine, What Are Survivors’ Options for Free Phones?

As word spreads that Verizon’s HopeLine program, which provided free cell phones to survivors, is ending, many local programs are wondering what options are available.

Probably the best option right now, at least for survivors who are low-income, will be the Lifeline program. Lifeline is managed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and run by individual phone providers. The program offers reduced fee or free phones with data and minutes for eligible low-income individuals. Program materials state that, “To participate in the program, subscribers must either have an income that is at or below 135% of the federal Poverty Guidelines or participate in certain assistance programs.”

As for other programs that collect, refurbish and give out free phones to survivors, be cautious when considering partnering with them. Older phones, often donated directly to shelters or through donation drives, often have old batteries. This means that a phone kept hidden in case a survivor needs to call 911 might not work when it’s needed. Ask how they wipe previous owner’s data from the devices, if they install a new battery, and whether the phone can only be used for 911 calls.

In addition, we know that access to a phone can make a difference for survivor beyond the ability to contact emergency services. A smartphone with data, minutes and messaging, can help survivors to locate housing, services, employment, medical appointments, court dates, and can reduce isolation.

The HopeLine program differed from other programs by giving survivors a new phone. The Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence summarized the success of the program in announcing it was discontinued, “Over the course of HopeLine’s phone donation program, millions of phones were provided to survivors of domestic violence and tens of millions of dollars were committed to support the important work of domestic violence prevention and awareness.” Survivors currently using HopeLine phones will be able to continue using them through December 31, 2018.

Addressing Technology Misuse in the Context of Sexual Assault

Two new resources from Safety Net discuss Technology Misuse in Sexual Assault, and offer advocates and others working with survivors a tool for Assessing Technology Misuse and Privacy Concerns.

As technology becomes woven into every aspect of society, offenders misuse the technology in sexual assault. Just as the dynamics of sexual assault differ from domestic violence, the misuse of technology looks different when sexual assault occurs outside of an intimate partner relationship.

  • A youth group leader might misuse online communities to groom victims.
  • A supervisor might threaten to change an employee’s file in a company database.
  • A caretaker might limit access to help-seeking through technology.
  • A medical provider might threaten to share embarrassing information or images gathered in the course of treatment.
  • Surveillance cameras and security could be misused by a landlord to gain footage of or access to a victim.
  • A law enforcement officer could misuse a database to target potential victims.

More understood examples include the explosion in the production and sharing of child pornography, or nonconsensual sharing of intimate images or footage of sexual assault of adults over the Internet.

Privacy Concerns

In addition, sexual assault cases in the public eye can generate distressing comments on news stories and social media, and some survivors may become the target of online harassment, doxing or other retaliation.

Technology and Root Causes

Online spaces amplify existing attitudes and beliefs, and so can support rape culture through memes, viral posts, revenge porn sites, etc. At the same time, online advocacy and activism efforts have used online spaces to counter rape culture through awareness, events, bystander intervention and more.