Across the country, domestic violence hotlines have been set up with the sole intention of helping to end the epidemic of domestic violence by providing instant, nonjudgmental support. At most hotlines, trained domestic violence advocates answer calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including on the weekends, at 3 a.m., and on holidays. These voices of hope are ready and willing to lend an empathetic ear, answer questions or help survivors find shelter.
They’re ready … but are you?
If you’ve never called a domestic violence hotline or crisis line before, it can seem a little intimidating. Open up to a complete stranger about your most intimate and personal issues? Reveal to them secrets you might not have even told your best friend about?
Yet, in times of crisis, that’s exactly the point—you need someone to tell you that you’re not to blame. You’re not alone. And, there are options.
Maybe you’re still hesitant to pick up the phone. That’s normal; it can be hard to make that first call. We talked to Ken Noyes, chief operations officer at the National Domestic Violence Hotline about some of the common questions people have about this crisis line, undoubtedly the most well known of all the domestic violence hotlines: 1-800-799-7233. They’ve been answering the phones 24/7 since 1996, and have taken some 4 million calls since they began. In 2007, they launched loveisrespect.org, especially for teens enduring abuse. They offer the hotline 1-866-331-9474, an online chatting feature and texting option.
Most of these answers should apply to the more than one thousand local crisis hotlines as well. Most local hotlines are 24/7 and can have intimate knowledge of nearby resources, but may have more limited staff to answer calls. You can find the nearest local hotline using our search tool.
Why would I call a stranger at a hotline? Shouldn’t I just reach out to my friends or family if I need help?
“We certainly do promote reaching out to friends and family if you feel safe and comfortable doing so,” says Noyes. But, there are lots of people who wouldn’t turn to friends or family because they’ve experienced judgment, criticism or have experienced abuse in their own family.” The hotline, says Noyes, is staffed by nonbiased, nonjudgmental individuals, open and ready to discuss any topic based upon the caller’s needs.
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They’re also knowledgeable about abuse. Whether a staff person or a volunteer, anyone who speaks to a caller has received 60 hours of domestic violence training. After that, they receive additional coaching and in-service training throughout the year. The Hotline also offers an online chatting feature if you’re not much of a phone person, available from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m., though they’re working on turning that into a 24/7 option as well.
How do I know it’s time to make the call?
“The first thing to think about, before even reaching out to the hotline, is your safety,” says Noyes. “Are you safe in your relationship? Does your partner make you feel unsafe? And once you’re able to answer those questions for yourself, or for your children, then you can think about whether or not it’s time to have a conversation with an objective partner who can help you think about your options.”
Do I have to give them my real name?
No. Hotlines will let you stay completely anonymous, or you can give yourself a made-up name—whatever you feel comfortable with. But even if you do reveal your real name, your call is completely private and secure. “We are 100 percent confidential,” confirms Noyes. “We do not use caller ID. We will ask for their ZIP code only—to pull up regional resources.”
Will I ever get a busy signal?
On their busiest days, The Hotline is staffed with 60 people and callers will get an immediate response. On the rare occasion all the advocates are busy, callers are placed into a hold queue, “and the average wait time is under two minutes,” says Noyes.
I’m not looking to go to a shelter. I’m not even sure I want to leave my partner. Can I still call a hotline?
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Of course. Explains Noyes, “Many people are not ready to leave. But they want to know how they can move their relationship to be a safe one, or manage their relationship without leaving. Our advocates are trained to help people understand abuse, and identify whether or not their relationship is healthy or unhealthy.” Sometimes, calling a hotline can help a survivor have that “aha moment” about what is happening to them, by pointing out signs and red flags that indicate their partner is abusive.
OK, let’s say I do call. What will the person on the other end of the line say? Do I have to start the conversation?
“Every caller is welcomed and thanked for reaching out,” says Noyes. “We know they feel anxious. We’ll ask them if they’re in a safe place to talk or chat. It’s critical that they have safety during that time, and it’s preferable if their partner is not around. If their partner walks in, they have the option to hang up immediately and call back when it’s safe.”
Next, you’ll be asked to tell the advocate a little bit about your situation. You can give as many or as few details as you feel comfortable with. “We may ask what they’re considering at this point … and ask them how they’re taking care of themselves. Self-care is extremely important especially while experiencing abuse,” says Noyes.
You’ll be asked if you need resources in the community, like shelter, support groups, lay legal help, counseling, or batterer intervention programs. Yes, batterers can call the line, too.
Who else calls the hotline besides survivors and batterers?
Says Noyes, “We take calls from survivors, from those who recognize themselves as victims, from perpetrators [abusers], family members, law enforcement, concerned others—you name it, we’ll take a call from anyone. We’re non-judgmental and open and supportive to every caller.”
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