The Boston Globe’s weekly Ocean State Innovators column features a Q&A with Rhode Island innovators who are starting new businesses and nonprofits, conducting groundbreaking research, and reshaping the state’s economy. Send tips and suggestions to reporter Alexa Gagosz at email@example.com.
Reetam Ganguli, a Providence-based advocate for sexual assault victims, was recently working with a young Rhode Island mother who was financially unable to leave her abusive boyfriend. She had endured years of abuse, unaware that she actually qualified for a government grant that could help her to relocate.
Many victims in Rhode Island, and throughout the country, feel as though they have no choice but to stay with their abuser, says Ganguli. He developed Survivor Central late last year, which is a free and confidential platform that matches survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and human trafficking with resources they need, without having to go through advocates.
Q: How does Survivor Central work?
Ganguli: Most survivors don’t actively go out to look for resources and, unfortunately, live with their abuser. The few that do get flooded with dozens of resources (many of which they don’t qualify for, or don’t need), have to spend hours going physically to a shelter or sexual assault organization, and have to explain their traumatic experiences to an advocate.
Survivors visit our platform, take two minutes to fill out a series of yes/no questions on our proprietary resource matching questionnaire, and are immediately matched with custom-tailored medical, legal, and financial resources that they qualify for.
Q: How do you ensure that the information users are filling out is confidential?
Ganguli: Our entire question stream consists primarily of yes/no questions, so the users’ responses are impossible to be identifiable to begin with. On top of that, we further de-identify the data (storing them as randomly generated IDs) and can only look at the total, aggregate number of people that filled out the questionnaire or answered “yes” to a given question. We don’t collect any personal data, we have no cookies, no third-party involvement, do not collect information like credit cards or email addresses, and do not have paywalls.
Q: You have a new 10-question screening coming soon where responses are recorded and sent to nearby domestic and sexual violence shelters. How does that work?
Ganguli: Currently, survivors in Rhode Island looking for a shelter to escape an abusive partner are told to call five different shelters three to four times a day, which can cause them to stay with their abuser just for not calling at the right time. Our shelter matching platform will allow survivors to fill out a quick screening questionnaire (completely confidential and de-identified), which then gets sent to their local shelters, who then provide immediate updates when there are open shelter spots.
Q: What’s your business model?
Ganguli: Survivor Central will never charge survivors to use our platform; we care more about your safety than the money in your wallet. Once we deploy our shelter matching platform, we plan to charge interested shelters in every state a nominal monthly fee to use our platform, in exchange for saving them hundreds of hours in calling or answering calls, allowing them to spend more of their energy on supporting survivors.
Q: What is your year-long goal? Any new initiatives coming out?
Ganguli: We’re currently only fully deployed in Rhode Island, but we have comprehensive resource data collected for all 50 states, are in touch with multiple sexual assault and domestic violence shelters all over the country in helping to validate the resource data, and are in the process of configuring the schema for our backend to handle all the states. Once we roll out the final version later this year, anyone from any U.S. state should be able to get access to their local state-specific resources. We’re also working with universities to offer our platform at orientation to help support survivors on college campuses.
We also are working with multiple nonprofits in five to six different countries to develop an international launch plan for 2022, so we can maximize access for survivors all over the world to resources they’re eligible for.
Finally, I’m also working on a political advocacy campaign to write a bill helping to increase the visibility and accessibility of resources for survivors.
Q: How could a potential resource that’s not already listed on your site reach out to be considered?
Ganguli: They can fill out this contact form.