Closer Look: RAINN’s Technology Team

In honor of RAINN’s 25th anniversary, each month we’re taking a closer look at the people and programs that are essential in our work to help survivors today and every day. This month, we’re shining a spotlight on RAINN’s technology team.

Whether they’re building something from the ground up, or ensuring the privacy and smooth functioning of the technology platforms they’ve already built to support the National Sexual Assault Hotline, the technology team is crucial in making sure the services RAINN offers to survivors and their loved ones are safe, secure, private, and available around the clock.

Sometimes that means ensuring RAINN’s contact center is accessible to support specialists who have visual impairments, or visitors who are using different web browsers and devices. Other times, it means defending against cyber attacks meant to make our services inaccessible to survivors. All the technology products also need to be accessible and work smoothly worldwide, since RAINN operates standalone hotlines for more than 25 other organizations including the Department of Defense.

“During periods of increased media attention about sexual violence in the last two years, we’ve seen a spike in malicious traffic,” says RAINN’s director of technology. “We’ve had multiple attempts to try to take down the hotline. Thankfully, our security posture allowed us to remain active and uninterrupted for the surge of people reaching out for help.”

The technology team’s top priority is privacy. “We value privacy above all else,” says RAINN’s director of technology. “That’s why a lot of the technologies we use are built in-house. There are lots of great technology platforms out there, but unless you build it yourself, there’s some risk involving data collection or other vulnerability out of your control.” RAINN’s Online Hotline was the web’s first secure hotline service. It takes many steps to ensure anonymity, including not storing IP addresses, encrypting all data, and not saving transcripts of sessions.

RAINN’s senior software developer, who leads building the National Sexual Assault Hotline’s latest communications platform, explains what part of that process looked like. “Web applications have two parts—front end and back end work. Front end is making it look right and back end is making it work. I lean toward back end. It is my job to make a secure system. In addition to encryption, that means taking several steps to make sure chats remain siloed.”

A major part of what the technology team does is researching technologies to stay ahead of the curve. For instance, artificial intelligence and machine learning are an area of growth that could have a huge positive impact on supporting survivors. How? RAINN’s technology director explains: “Artificial intelligence doesn’t mean we’re trying to replace the incredible efforts of the highly trained and skilled support specialists who keep our hotlines running. Not at all. But, for example, with machine learning and natural language processing, we can recognize patterns and differentiate between people who simply need informational resources and those who are in crisis or need more personal attention.”

RAINN recently partnered with Twilio, the leading cloud-communications platform, to take part in Twilio’s Crisis Response Technology Network (CRTN) as part of its newly-launched Crisis Response and Prevention Initiative.

“Our primary concern is privacy, and we try to embed that value at every level of the technologies we build and operate,” says the technology director. “It’s a very different experience working on privacy-first technologies—when you take privacy as seriously as we do, you have to dig deep into your tool belt.”

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