“How did this happen? Is it normal? What should I do?” These are very common (and very real) sound bites from The Domestic Violence Hotline’s calls, chats and texts.
For over 20 years the hotline has provided support and hope for Domestic Violence victims. The hotline recently hit an important milestone: their four millionth call. The numbers clearly show that domestic abuse affects a large population of our country.
We spoke with The Domestic Violence Hotline CEO Katie Ray-Jones who says, “on the one hand, we’re really excited to have helped and given access to that many people but on the other hand, we’re deeply saddened that that many people need this support.”
Domestic violence can happen to anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion or gender and people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels.
The Hotline Evolution
The Hotline was originally created out of the Violence Against Women Act but no one, including national leaders, knew exactly how many people would need such a service. At the time, it was designed to be informational and used to refer victims to a shelter program. However, it turned out that in many cases a call to The Hotline was the very first time victims were reaching out for help. They leaned on The Hotline before ever speaking to a family member or close friend.
Today, the organization has shifted “to create space for [victims] to be able to disclose what’s happening to them, have someone there to be non-judgmental and to provide emotional support, safety planning, crisis intervention, etc” says Ray-Jones. On each call, there is a trained advocate on the line who can determine on a case-by-case basis what the caller needs. The Hotline has also integrated technology in order to increase access. It offers chat and text services to victims all over the country.
“We also realized there was a population of young people who needed services,” says Ray-Jones, namely as a healthy relationships platform. For instance, during the infamous Rihanna and Chris Brown domestic abuse story, The Hotline became a touchpoint for teens needing a crisis intervention through LoveisRespect.org. The Hotline has been able to respond to the needs of victims in this way.
What should we know about abuse?
Abuse comes in many forms: physical, emotional, sexual/reproductive, financial and even digital. Domestic abuse wounds are not always visible and the signs of abuse often take time to show.
Often, partners seem “perfect” in the beginning of a relationship and then start to show controlling behaviors later on. Be mindful of common behaviors and warning signs of victims. We should all keep an open dialogue about about healthy relationships and what that looks like or what to expect. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect. Katie Ray-Jones encourages bystanders to get educated and understand that “domestic violence has no boundaries … it happens across all economic statuses, educational backgrounds, geographic regions and race … so no matter what kind of life you lead, it’s prevalent. People are often suffering in silence.”
Suspecting Domestic Abuse
Statistically, you may know someone in this situation: 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. If you know someone who is a victim, Ray-Jones proclaims that “you have the power to help them! Give them The Hotline phone number or make the call yourself.”
Advocates are prepared to help you have that conversation with your loved one. Next, it is important to remain non-judgmental and patient. We must understand that leaving the abusive relationship can take time. As a support system to the victim, take care of yourself as well and lean on The Hotline.
Lastly, CEO Katie Ray-Jones emphasizes how hard they work to keep calls confidential and truly offer a safe space for victims and victim’s loved ones to speak freely about their situation.
“We walk you through your options and what the risks and benefits of each are so that you can make an informed choice. We believe as the person living that life, they know the situation the best. If we just told them what to do, we would be no different than their abuser.”
[Editor’s note: If you or someone you know is being abused, please reach out to The Hotline at 1–800–799-SAFE (7233) or by visiting thehotline.org.]