Scottye Cash is an associate professor of social work and co-authored research regarding reporting child abuse through text lines. | Photo credit: Courtesy of Ohio State News.

An Ohio State researcher and her colleagues have shown that teens and children are more comfortable reporting abuse via text as opposed to a hotline, according to their study.

Scottye Cash, associate professor of social work and co-author of the study, and her colleagues at Purdue University and Yale University, studied what youth say when reporting abuse through Crisis Text Line, at what point they reach out and the context of each conversation.

“The moral of the story for me is that without this service that there may have been teens that would not have disclosed that they had been maltreated,” Cash said.

Cash said the research began when the team discovered the nationwide service Crisis Text Line, a free, 24/7 crisis support resource. The service did not have a child abuse reporting option, but following a conversation with the researchers, Crisis Text Line created the child abuse option and entered into a research agreement with the team.

“We didn’t know if any of these kids would write about abuse or neglect or sexual abuse, et cetera,” Cash said. “We had no idea if that would even show up, and so the fact that almost half — or around half — of them started out their first statement talking [about] abuse, I think was really informative.”

Laura Schwab Reese, lead author of the study and assistant professor of health and kinesiology at Purdue University, said that the study did not begin with a hypothesis; instead, the team went into the data without expectations.

“There was a general theory in the field that when kids text in about depression or suicide, they’ll mention abuse. But we found that in many cases, abuse was the first thing they mentioned,” Schwab Reese said in a Purdue press release. “Kids are actively seeking support regarding abuse and neglect through these services, which isn’t what we expected.”

According to an Ohio State press release, the study analyzed 244 text conversations — 24,730 individual messages — of youth corresponding with the text line, and the average age of the child reaching out was 14. The study was conducted from October 2015 to July 2017, Cash said.

The content analysis showed that 44 percent of youth revealed abuse within the first text message, about 13 percent disclosed family issues, 10 percent said they considered suicide or self-harm and 6 percent sought general support, according to the Ohio State press release.

Schwab Reese said that the language many children used to discuss the abuse was incredibly straightforward.

“It’s rare for adults to come right out and say, ‘I’m a victim of abuse.’ They say things like, ‘Things aren’t great at home right now,’ or, ‘My partner and I have been fighting a lot,’” Schwab Reese said. “We thought kids might use vague terms to describe their abuse as well, but we found that a lot of them use very blunt language to describe what’s going on.”

Volunteers working the Crisis Text Line were able to engage anonymous texters to give information to file a report in an effort to end their maltreatment, but the researchers do not know what happened to the youth after the reports were filed, Cash said.

Cash said that the use of texting is a way to allow youth to get help in a way that they are comfortable with.

“They’ve been maltreated; you don’t want to have secondary victimization, and so you want to give them whatever ways possible to that they can be able to reach out for help,” Cash said.

In the future, the team wants to look at what language is used in the disclosure process on both sides of the text line as well as how a mental health peer-to-peer network would function, Cash said.

As a result of this research, Cash said she wants kids, families and friends to know that there is a place they can go to discuss these issues via text.

“There’s someone there that will either help them report the maltreatment or get them hooked up with local resources,” she said.

If you or someone you know is experiencing any kind of crisis, reach out to Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741 for free, 24/7 crisis support. More information can be found at Crisis Text Line’s website.