What Does Calling A Domestic Violence Hotline Do?
By Sarah Fader
Updated May 19, 2020
Reviewer Kelly L. Burns, MA, LPC, ATR-P
Domestic violence is a tricky situation. Many people make excuses for the person abusing them so that they don't have to admit what is happening. Their denial not only keeps them in the situation but also prevents them getting help as many abusers will never be apprehended without the abuse victim standing up to them.
Sometimes, they don't know who to talk to, or the people concerned about don't either without involving the police which may make the situation worse. About 60% of the callers to the national hotline are first-time callers.
Domestic Violence hotlines allow anyone to call and discuss their concerns. You may not be the person getting abused, you may even be the abuser, or you may need to get some advice about someone who is being abused. They are always free, and they are always anonymous unless you want to give them names. These hotlines are open 24 hours a day, every day including holidays. The number for the national domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE(7233). There is also a dedicated hotline for teen victims of domestic violence called Love Is Respect at 1-866-331-9474 that also has an online chat feature and a text line.
Are You Safe To Talk?
The first question most hotlines will ask is are you safe. This is very important because often the abuser will be triggered by the victim reaching out. If the person is not safe, they usually advise them to call 911 instead of or to call back when the abuser is not there. Most abusive situations are power related which shows up as a control. The abusive partner wants to control their victim and will either act in anger to get that control or potentially lash out if they think they're losing control. It's a good idea to delete the number or the web history if you're in this situation after calling.
Once you've cleared whether it's safe to talk an advocate will want to know about the situation. You can choose to give specific details like names or stick with vague terms. You might want to discuss a recent event or something that gives a timeline that has led you to call. They will ask you what steps you've taken or that you're ready to take to help you figure out what is the best option.
Part of calling a domestic violence hotline is figuring things out with someone who listens and has experience with similar situations. The counselor won't give you advice or specific directions on what you should do but will help you talk about your options so you can make an informed decision on your own.
Counselors will also ask if you're taking care of yourself. Abusive relationships can be taxing in many ways, and even little things like a bath or a nice breakfast can help make you feel better about the situation so that you're strong enough to take the next step. They may suggest simple things like self-care if you've been feeling depressed as even a little grooming can make you feel better.
Choices They Offer:
- Connecting directly with shelters, support groups, counselors, legal advisors and other advocates. They cannot send you or advise you to contact police or press charges but some of these trained sources may. Each source is a different option, so it's important to consider all of them when making decisions. A counselor will not tell you which is best for you but will help you decide.
- Advocacy for callers to get them into any of those programs. They can also connect you to specific local agencies, or you can find them here.
- The national hotline has multilingual counselors in both English and Spanish. While this won't be every hotline and may depend on your location, they will always try and find someone who can speak to you. They also have a TTY line for deaf callers during normal business hours.
- The hotlines always offer total anonymity. You are never asked to name yourself, an abuser, or a person you are concerned about, and even if you do, it remains completely confidential. The counselors cannot tell anyone what is said during your call.
- Counselors who will help you create a "safety plan." If you find yourself considering leaving your situation a safe way to do so might not be simply walking out the door. Many abusers see this as the ultimate loss of control and can lash out violently. A safe plan means that you'll be able to leave without risking your life or anyone else's while also getting you into a safe situation elsewhere.
What Happens Next
What happens after you call a domestic violence hotline is entirely up to you. As they do not offer therapy or advice themselves, it is wholly dependent on your choices. If you choose to try and work things out, they can point you in the direction of therapists and counselors. You can also search for local therapists on sites like BetterHelp.
If you're not ready to leave or not interested in going to a shelter then by calling you may get a better understanding of abuse and whether the relationship is unhealthy. What counselors hope is that people in an abusive situation, once they have someone they can trust to talk to, will have an "aha" moment that sparks understanding of their situation through talking.
The reason why counselors are not allowed to directly tell you or influence you to decide that if it turns out to be the wrong one, they may be held liable. For example, if you decide on their advice to stay and try and work things out then get injured. Since they are only there to listen and tell you your options, it can be frustrating for some people who are calling hoping for a definitive answer. However, if you are the one making the decisions the benefit is that you can be proud of yourself and sure that the choice is the right one because you knew all the options in advance.
Sometimes just having someone to listen to the problems you're going through is enough. If you have someone to listen and talk to it objectively can be reassuring and put your mind at ease even if you do figure out that the situation isn't abusive after all. Many people aren't sure if something is considered abusive, especially when they're dealing with emotional abuse rather than physical.
Emotional abuse comes in many different forms and can range from control, gaslighting, and even reprogramming someone into a situation like Stockholm syndrome. You may be in a relationship that just isn't working but defining the behavior as abusive can be hard when you're too close to the problems which are why there are often callers who are friends or family with concerns.
If You're Being Abused…
If you are a victim of domestic abuse and you're calling the hotline for advice, then your call will be answered in less than 2 minutes. However, if you're a victim and you're in immediate danger, you should be calling 911 instead. Since the counselors are merely advocates, they don't have the power to do anything else or to call the police for you. The center you're calling could be hundreds of miles away from where you are and being anonymous means there's little way for them to send help in situations like that.
It's important if you're the antagonist in an abusive situation to know that even abusers can reform. Abuse is often the result of the abuser having been subjected to the same behavior which means by learning new behaviors they can break the cycle. A licensed counselor and therapist will help you look into your past traumas and try and identify what causes the behaviors and triggers.
If you are the abuser and you're willing to seek help, it's much more likely you will not be charged with domestic violence if you show you are trying to change and are aware of the problem with progress. Abuse is often a lashing out that is not conscious so by consciously choosing to seek help and channel that reaction differently you can stop the cycle continuing through others who may copy the behavior.
While statistically, those who are abusive are not very likely to reform there is hope. Abusers may be better directed towards relationship counseling than therapy, and there are many different options available which a domestic violence hotline can advise you of or on therapy search sites like BetterHelp. The key is that by being willing to recognize that you have a problem and that you want to get better, you will more likely succeed than if you are forced to or risk facing charges.
Calling a domestic violence hotline is something no one wants to do, but when you need someone to listen it's nice to have a trustworthy ear, and they will even start the conversation for you, so there's no awkwardness!