“I saw the need, and I saw that match between something I could do to help remedy an injustice that was very inspiring and very exciting.”
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Joan Prittie moved to Georgia nearly 30 years ago on a whim. “I came down here, sight unseen, and I fell in love with Athens.”
The Kentucky native had planned to attend college in Washington state to pursue international studies and law. She’d even paid a deposit. “I just began to have this growing sense of doom about how much I needed to borrow after my assistantship and scholarships and how expensive it would be to live in Washington.”
Georgia was more affordable, and she could still attend law school. As a young attorney, Prittie’s boss asked her to work on behalf of domestic violence survivors. She prepared clemency petitions for people convicted of killing their abusive partners.
“That project became, over time, this almost second full-time job in terms of a pro bono project and we worked on it for many years.”
It opened her eyes to the issue of domestic violence and ultimately changed the direction of her career. In 1999, Prittie joined Project Safe in Athens, a non-profit organization that works to end domestic violence through supportive services like long-term housing and support groups, prevention and education, and systems change advocacy. The non-profit started as an informal network of safe homes in the 1970s when volunteers opened their homes to victims of domestic violence.
“I saw the need, and I saw that match between something I could do to help remedy an injustice that was very inspiring and very exciting,” she says. “When the match of skills and need come together, I think that’s an incredible thing.”
Project Safe also offers crisis intervention – an emergency shelter, financial assistance, and a hotline. In 2012, the organization launched a dating violence text line for teens and young adults called Breaking Silence. The same year, a report named Georgia the number one state in the country for teen dating violence.
Text line interns are “near peers” – local college students studying subjects like criminal justice and social work. When Breaking Silence began a group of interns had one smartphone, which they handed off to each other between shifts.
As the program expanded, it became difficult for interns to keep up with the surge of texts coming in.
They also discovered an uneven distribution of texts. Some interns would be bombarded, while others wouldn’t receive any messages.
In 2015, Jeremy Johnson, senior research scientist with the Institute for People and Technology and the Interactive Media Technology Center, and a team of undergraduate and graduate students began working with Project Safe to develop a web-based interface that addresses several concerns. Instead of sharing one phone, the software allows interns to receive texts on multiple, individual smartphones. Incoming messages are distributed in a round robin fashion, solving the problem of uneven distribution. Since implementing the software, Breaking Silence has steadily grown and is now available statewide. Prittie appreciates how Georgia Tech and Project Safe worked together to find a solution.
“When we’re faced with a challenge, if we only try to think about it ourselves—whether that’s individually or as an organization—we’re going to be limited in what we can do. We’ve always known how important connection and relationships are.”
Georgia Tech Connection
Jeremy Johnson is a Research Scientist with the Interactive Media Technology Center (IMTC), where he has been working since 1999. Jeremy’s interests include ubiquitous computing, augmented reality, human-computer interaction, computer audio, sound design and creative applications of computing to the arts. At IMTC he contributes his skill as a software engineer to guide software development projects through the full software life cycle, from requirements gathering to deployment.