Online Program

Self-presentation on the web: U.s. agencies serving abused and assaulted women

Monday, November 4, 2013

Susan B. Sorenson, PhD, School of Social Policy and Practice, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Rui Shi, PhD student, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Jingwen Zhang, PhD student, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Jia Xue, PhD student, School of Social Policy & Practice, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Background. Internet technologies are an essential platform for public health. They are particularly useful for reaching people with stigmatized health conditions because of the anonymity allowed. This study examined the content and usability of websites of agencies serving women victims of violence. Methods. We entered into a search engine the names of a systematic 10% sample of 3,774 agencies listed in the National Directory of Domestic Violence Programs or the Directory of Sexual Assault Centers in the United States. Focusing on function, emphasis, and usability, we analyzed screenshots of the 261 resulting homepages and the readability of 193 home- and first-level pages. Agreement between raters averaged 98%. Results. Victims (94%) and donors (68%) were the primary intended audiences. About one-half of the webpages used social media and one-third provided cues to action. All but one homepage displayed information in English; 23% had a Spanish-language version and only 4% had a translation button to enable users to view the page in any language supported by the translation engine. Almost all (96.4%) were rated “fairly difficult” to “very confusing” to read, and 81.4% required more than a 9th grade education to understand. Conclusions. The service and marketing functions of homepages were met fairly well by the agency homepages but usability (particularly, readability and offering a mobile version) and efforts to increase user safety could be improved. The one-third of agencies lacking a website will not reach the substantial portion of the population that uses the Internet to find health and other resources.

Learning Areas:

Administer health education strategies, interventions and programs
Communication and informatics

Learning Objectives:
Define the service and marketing functions of websites of agencies that serve victims of violence against women. Explain how online activity can put abused women at risk. Describe three ways in which agency website usability can be improved to meet the needs of abused and assaulted women.

Keyword(s): Battered Women, Sexual Assault

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am a Professor at the University of Pennsylvania and trained in public health. I have conducted research on violence against women for more 25 years and have served as an advisor to the types of agencies that are studied in the research. I initiated and am responsible for the research that is to be presented.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.