SOPHIE Digital!

Project owner: Volkshilfe Wien, SOPHIE Beratungszentrum

Responsible person: Stefani Doynova, BA MA




Civil Society / Social Economy

What is it about?

The project developed and implemented a web-based counseling tool that sex workers in Vienna, Lower Austria and Burgenland can use to contact the SOPHIE counseling center anonymously and in multiple languages. The online tool offers direct assistance with official registrations, low-threshold information in various languages and the option to chat directly with a counselor. With the help of the tool, even more clients can be reached and empowered to live and work in a more self-determined way.


The Corona crisis has profoundly changed the working environment for sex workers, introducing more online platforms and illicit settings such as apartment-based work that bypass traditional social work outreach. This shift has made it difficult to connect with certain demographics, leaving sex workers with limited access to understandable information in their language and social support. As a result, sex workers are at increased risk of violence, financial or sexual exploitation, addiction and health risks. 


Before the pandemic, SOPHIE had already set out to digitise social work with sex workers, noting their frequent use of smartphones. SOPHIE's "Digital!" project now provides new digital channels for this group. The app provides low-barrier, anonymous access to support, including chatting with counsellors, online appointment booking and multilingual information, thus promoting social inclusion. 


In 2020, the 'BeeTwo - InnovationLab' project led to the creation of a digital app prototype, which will be developed into a web-based counselling tool by 2023 with Digifonds support from the Vienna Chamber of Labour. Inclusive development processes involved sex workers through initial interviews and multiple feedback loops to evaluate and improve the tool. The technical development was a collaboration between SOPHIE, the IT department of Volkshilfe Wien and an external IT company. After successful implementation, an adapted version of the tool is planned for wider use in all Volkshilfe Wien facilities. 


The SOPHIE Digital! tool addresses digital inequality by improving online access for sex workers and reducing barriers to reaching the helpline. It streamlines the daily tasks of SOPHIE counselling centre staff, in particular through online appointment booking, thereby reducing administrative burdens. In addition, other social organisations undergoing digitisation can draw valuable lessons from the development and launch of this innovative project and benefit from SOPHIE Digital!'s pioneering approach to web-based counselling. 


The adapted version of the tool is designed for widespread use within social organisations focusing on low-threshold outreach and social counselling. This makes it an invaluable resource for effectively engaging and supporting hard-to-reach target groups.