What is 20 years old, confidential, never stops working, and saves countless lives? The National Domestic Violence Hotline
Established as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (Pub. L. 103-322), the Hotline originated from the Violence Against Women Act, which authorized the Secretary of Health and Human Services to award a grant to a private, nonprofit entity “to establish and operate a national, toll-free telephone hotline to provide information and assistance to victims of domestic violence.”
Two decades later, the Hotline has become so much more than just a toll-free number; its legislative mandate now includes assistance to youth victims of family and dating violence, as well as to family members affected by victimization and even the general public.
The Hotline number took its first call on February 21, 1996; it took until August 2, 2003 to reach one million calls, and logged its 2 millionth call on October 21, 2008. People with Internet access can also instantly chat live at the website, www.thehotline.org, between 7am and 2am CST.
Hotline workers provide referrals to some 4,500 services in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and they can communicate in English and Spanish, with access to more than 170 other languages via telephonic interpretation.
The Hotline not only offers direct help for people experiencing immediate situations (crisis intervention and direct connections to local resources such as shelters), but also help for friends, coworkers, and family members of people in abusive relationships, ongoing support for survivors, help for abusive partners, information on legal resources, deaf services, technology and social media safety, and even aid in locating pet-friendly domestic violence shelters with the Safe Havens Mapping Project.
In response to the growing awareness of relationship abuse among adolescents and young adults, the Hotline added the National Dating Abuse Helpline (1-866-331-9474) in 2007, which also operates a web site specifically for dating violence at www.loveisrespect.org. There, callers can talk to someone in either English or Spanish or engage in live online chats at the web site; they can also use their mobile phones to contact the dating hotline by texting loveis to 22522.
In July of 2015, the Hotline opened a digital services office in Washington, D.C.. Its main call center is located in Austin, Texas, and is staffed primarily by victim advocates.
According to its 2014 Impact Report: the Hotline received 298,188 calls (more than a call every two minutes); 68,763 online chats; and, 11,017 texts (digital contacts comprised 21% of all contacts in 2014). These statistics represent an increase of 13% over 2013.
At 72%, people identifying as victims and survivors originated most of the contacts; nearly 9,000 contacts were non-English speakers. During the week of September 8, 2014, when the video of former NFL player Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée in a casino elevator appeared on the Internet, the Hotline experienced an 84% increase in call volume.
In a recent USA Today article, Hotline CEO Katie Ray-Jones told journalist Nancy Armour that through July 2015, the Hotline and Love Is Respect had already answered 185,845 contacts—61,106 more contacts than the same period in 2014, or a 32% increase. The Hotline’s busiest day of the week is Monday, while contacts to Love Is Respect spike in the afternoons and evenings, especially Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday evenings.
Unfortunately, the Hotline does not have enough staff to keep pace with all of the telephonic and digital contacts; in fact, in 2014, unanswered contacts increased 88% over the preceding year. In raw numbers, that meant of the 377,968 total contacts the Hotline received, 145,079 went unanswered due to a lack of staff members to respond. The websites alone experienced a 67% increase in visits from 2013: in 2014, thehotline.org received 1,178,871 visits, and loveisrespect.org received 2,424,296 visits. By far, the Hotline has seen the most rapid growth from online chats and from contacts by mobile users.
Specifically designed to target teens and young adults, the loveisrespect.org website includes downloadable materials, quizzes on healthy and unhealthy behaviors, a national survey of teen dating violence laws, resources on digital safety, and dating abuse statistics. The “get help” tab offers information not only for people in abusive relationships, but also for their friends, coworkers, family members, and bystanders. It can also link youths to help if their parents are the ones experiencing abuse.
As the Court’s family violence resource attorney, I do a fair amount of training for professionals in different disciplines. At these events, I am often approached by individuals seeking advice for helping their coworkers, family members, or friends who are in abusive relationships. I usually answer by referring them to the Hotline or to loveisrespect.org, because of the unfailingly high quality of information available at the web sites. For two decades, the Hotline has provided confidential help to more than 3 million people.