Choosing An Online Support Group


There are many abuse support groups online, and it's a great thing: each survivor can find just what they need, and each site can focus on their niche, instead of trying to cater to every possible demand. It happens all too often that an abuse survivor joins an online community only to leave it in a few days/weeks because it does not offer what they are looking for. Many people feel it's unavoidable; survivor sites are private, so it can seem like you have no choice but to take the risk, register an account, and see what happens. In reality, however, there are plenty of things you can see before joining a survivor site. Looking at them can save you a lot of frustration, and shorten your search for an online support group that would be a good match for you. Here are seven things to consider, while browsing a site you're thinking of joining:


Fort community consists of about 200 active members, which results in about 30-50 of us online at 8PM and about 5 of us online at 4AM. We like it this way: it's just enough people to always have someone to talk to, but not so many that you lose track of who's who. A site with 20 members online at 4AM probably has a community of a few hundred, so you wouldn't know most of the people you'll be talking to. A site with only 3 members online at 8PM probably has a community of about 10-12, so you would often be alone. Look on the bottom of forums, on homepage, and/or on "About Us" page of the site you're considering, how many members are online right now? Does this number seem comfortable to you?


Are you looking for a place to vent? A place to get advice? A place to socialize and make friends? A place to compare notes with people who struggle with the same things as you? All of these are valid needs, but one site cannot fulfill them all because they directly contradict each other. Read through the rules and "About us" pages, and compare both to other sites of similar type - that makes the differences more visible. All survivor sites "provide safe environment" and "support survivors from any walks of life", but one site might be "offering you a shoulder to cry on so you can feel heard and validated" (i.e. a good place to vent), while another might be "focusing on moving forward" (i.e. no whining allowed). See which approach matches your needs best.


When reading community guidelines, most people are thinking, "Would I be able to follow these rules?" A much better approach is - would these rules ensure a good environment for me? For example, if they aren't very specific (e.g. be nice, be respectful, don't be offensive, etc), it means an unpredictable environment: ‘be respectful’ is too general a rule to enforce, so in practical life whether you were respectful or not would be up to mod's judgment. For another example, if there's a "no discrimination based on religion" rule, it means that there will be Christians, Muslims, Pagans, Jews, and everyone else, and you'll have to get along with them all. If anything at all seems confusing - feel free to email site admins with your questions or concerns; any site admin would much rather clarify their policies from the start than have you leave in a fury a few days later.


Take a look at the website overall. Is the text readable? Is the look consistent from page to page? Are there broken links or images? Look at the top and the bottom of any page you're at. Can you find the links to sitemap, about us, contact us? What else does this site offer? When was it last updated? Well-organized people run well-organized sites. A messy, confusing, inconsistent site usually means messy, confusing, inconsistent moderation: the rules constantly change, you never know what you'll be in trouble for, mods change weekly, and you spend more time worrying about getting banned than actually discussing abuse/aftermath.

Scope of control:

This part is most often overlooked, but results in biggest grievances. You absolutely have to know who controls what (and therefore who is responsible for what). If someone is sending you nasty PMs, who will be fixing this problem, you or site staff? How would you fix it? How would they fix it? If you changed your mind and want all of your posts deleted, can you do it? Will staff do it? Some sites control everything so that you're worry-free - but then you're at their mercy and have no say on what happens. Other sites let you control some of the things - but then you're responsible for the outcome. See if the site's policies on these things make sense to you.


It might sound like a strange advice, but google "what my website is worth" and type the site's URL into the calculator. What you'll see is a lot of information about this site, coming from an independent source. You can see how old it is, how many visitors it receives a day, how does it rank on Alexa, how much it's worth, etc. All of these numbers are good measures of reliability. A site worth $10,000 will probably stay for good, while a site worth $50 might disappear tomorrow, if the owner gets bored with it. Alexa rank of more than 1,000,000 means the site is just starting out, while a rank of less than 100,000 means a top of the line site. Additionally, see which software the site runs on. A Facebook group will not be anonymous, a free chat will have ads, a Wordpress blog will not be well-structured. Decent software only costs a few hundred bucks a year, if site owners opt out of it - it usually means they don't plan to keep the project long-term.


If you've read this far and the site you're looking at seems OK - it's probably transparent enough. However, take another look. Can you find their guidelines? Sitemap? When was the site updated last? When was the last post on forums? How many active members are there? If the homepage isn’t answering these questions - something is fishy. Why can't you see these things till you register an account, what are they hiding? Poor organization? No active members? Do you want to join a community without knowing anything at all about it? Another thing - read their privacy policy, and compare it with the information they require you to disclose during registration. Do you understand why they need this information and how will they use it? For example, Fort requires you to enter your date of birth: it's kept private and confidential, but we need to know your age for legal reasons (i.e. if you're a minor or an adult). On the other hand, I know a survivor site that requires your home address - I can't guess what would they need it for, and I don't answer intrusive questions without a clear reason given.

There are many sites out there, you don't have to settle for something that just doesn't appeal to you. Follow your gut feeling, you should be liking this new site you're about to join.