National Sexual Assault Online Hotline

Organization Information:

Organization Name:
City & State:
District of Columbia
Organization Website:
Organization's Mission Statement

 The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network is the nation's largest anti-sexual assault organization. RAINN leads national efforts to prevent sexual assault, improve services to victims and ensure that rapists are brought to justice.

Submission Information

Impact Essay

Sexual assault is a serious problem in the United States. The FBI considers rape the second-most violent crime, trailing only murder, and mental health experts widely agree that it is, by far, the most traumatic violent crime that a victim lives to remember. According to U.S. Department of Justice statistics, every two minutes another person in the U.S. is sexually assaulted, and over the course of a lifetime, 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men will be sexually assaulted. Statistics also show that sexual assault and abuse disproportionately impact teens and young adults. A full 80% of victims of sexual violence are under age 30, and nearly half are under 18.

In order to help more young victims of sexual violence, and better serve our target audience, RAINN knew that we had to reach them wherever they were spending time, and increasingly that was online. Research conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life project found that 9 out of 10 young people are online, and according to the Kaiser Family Foundation report “Generation”, more online teens and young adults have used the internet to find health information than to download music, play games or chat. After reading these studies, and also receiving hundreds of emails from victims requesting online support, RAINN realized the urgent need for an online service.

Launched in 2007, the Online Hotline provides live, secure, anonymous crisis support for victims of sexual assault, their friends, and families over RAINN’s website. The Online Hotline is free of charge and is available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. Using a secure and anonymous instant-messaging type format, the Online Hotline allows rape and sexual assault victims to communicate directly with trained crisis support volunteers—a groundbreaking service and the web’s first live, secure crisis hotline. In addition, the Online Hotline website provides a library of information about recovery, medical issues, the criminal justice process, local resources, and support for family and friends of victims.

When planning the Online Hotline, privacy, confidentiality and reliability were of paramount importance. From our focus groups and research, we knew that survivors of sexual assault were seeking an online alternative because of the greater sense of anonymity it provides, and that these features were absolutely critical if victims were going to feel comfortable using the Online Hotline. We needed web-serving technology that was flexible and customizable. Utilizing Windows Server’s robust Internet Information Service, RAINN was able to customize logging to discard IP addresses of visitors so sessions can’t be traced back to them, making the service truly anonymous. Its application mapping capability allowed us to easily test different development languages while still utilizing IISs’ powerful web-serving engine all while providing the speed needed to handle the Hotline’s website traffic requirements, which are now reaching over 400 online sessions per week.

Next we focused on reliability and security. In order to meet the uptime requirement of the Hotline and ever-rising demand for these services, we evaluated many different OS packages. Windows Server 2003 was chosen for its wide support, ease of implementation, and stability. We were able to requisition the servers and have them online in just a few hours. We were also able to develop on Windows and push our software out to production Windows servers knowing that it would run exactly the same way as it did in our test environment. And because of the sensitive nature of the content our service deals in, and the importance of security, Microsoft’s commitment to patching vulnerabilities quickly played a significant role in our decision to utilize their technology. We know that we can reliably expect updates from Microsoft every second Tuesday of the month, and no other vendor provides that kind of reliability. The software is secure, reliable and predictable, key factors in ensuring that we are able to provide the best support possible to survivors of sexual assault.

Once we had the infrastructure in place, we had to make a decision regarding which database product to use. Because of the pace at which we knew the Online Hotline would grow, we needed something that could scale easily with our traffic. We wanted a product that supported stored procedures for modularity and speed, clustering to handle growth, and had industry support for backup and recovery processes. Microsoft SQL Server fit the bill perfectly. It’s an extremely quick RDBMS and can easily grow from a single server to a cluster implementation with minimal effort. In addition, the backup and recovery process is extremely intuitive saving us valuable time when performing administrative duties. When combined with our Windows Server 2003 infrastructure we have an extremely stable platform for providing our critical services. Also, SQL Server is able to handle our website load along with our reporting load without a hitch, enabling us to log tens-of-thousands of records to the database for statistical analysis on a weekly basis. This analysis is critical in allowing us to improve our services and provide the best possible crisis support. Because of the many benefits listed above, SQL Server and Microsoft have made it possible for us to provide a safe, secure, reliable service to almost 2,000 survivors of sexual violence each month.

Thanks to the quick implementation times Microsoft’s software provided us we were able to stop worrying about technology and start providing services. Since launching, we have served over 33,000 survivors of sexual violence and have received very high feedback scores from users of the service. Over 90% of visitors find the service easy to use and 4 out of 5 are highly satisfied with the service and would recommend it to others.

”I ended up going to RAINN's new online hotline and feel that I received really good advice and information there—they're doing a great job.” -Hotline User


Submission Category
Transformations to Maximize Impact
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