What Does Calling A Domestic Violence Hotline Do?

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated May 15, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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If you are experiencing intimate partner violence and are considering calling a domestic violence hotline, you are not alone. Intimate partner violence affects over 12 million people yearly and is serious. Knowing what to expect when you call a domestic violence hotline can help you feel more prepared and confident about reaching out for support. 

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Moving forward after domestic violence can be scary

What are domestic violence hotlines?

Domestic violence, sometimes called domestic abuse or intimate partner violence, can be defined as physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, or financial abuse by one person against another as part of a pattern of behavior intended to gain or maintain power and control. Domestic violence often occurs in romantic relationships but might also occur in familial or platonic relationships. 

Experiencing domestic violence can feel isolating, and knowing where to turn for help may be difficult. Domestic violence hotlines exist to provide crisis support for individuals in these situations. The National Domestic Violence Hotline, for example, is free, 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Whether you are the recipient of abuse, the perpetrator of abuse, or another party needing advice on behalf of someone enduring domestic abuse, you can call and receive immediate guidance. 

If you are experiencing sexual abuse or have experienced assault, note that the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) has a hotline dedicated to supporting individuals experiencing sexual assault, harassment, or intimate partner violence. You can contact them anytime by calling 800-656-HOPE (4673) or using the online chat.

What to expect when you call

Reaching out for help can be intimidating, so it may be beneficial to know what to expect before you call. While every call may be unique, you might encounter the following subjects or questions.  

Are you safe to talk?

One of the first questions most hotlines will ask is, “Are you safe to talk?” The reason hotlines begin with this question is that an abuser may be aggravated by a survivor’s action of calling for help. If you are not in a safe environment to speak, the advocate receiving your call may advise you to call back when the abuser is not present. Abusers often act on the desire to control others. If you suspect that an abuser may lash out in response to the perceived loss of control, it may be wise to take out the number or website from your phone after contacting a hotline.

Current safety evaluation 

One of the first questions many hotlines will ask is, "Are you safe to talk?" The crisis support individual may ask this to ensure you're not being watched, listened to, or abused by someone due to your call. 

If you are not in a safe environment to speak, the advocate receiving your call may advise you to call back when you are safe or reach out to certain authorities. People acting abusively may act on the desire to control others. If you suspect an individual may lash out in response to the perceived loss of control, you might consider taking out the number or website from your phone after contacting them. 

Gathering information 

Once the advocate has gathered whether you are safe, they may ask questions to get to know you and your situation. You can divulge as much or as little as you need. You might discuss a recent event or past red flags or lay out the timeline that has led you to call. The advocate may ask you what steps you've taken or are ready to take to help you determine your next steps.

Part of the potential benefit of calling a domestic violence hotline is the opportunity to talk about your situation with someone trained to listen actively and who has experience helping individuals experiencing domestic violence. An advocate may help you discuss your options to make an informed decision based on your situation.

Hotline advocates may also ask if you're taking care of yourself. An abusive relationship can be taxing and make it difficult to practice self-care. The advocate might suggest coping strategies like taking a bath, having a yummy breakfast, or practicing mindfulness with them over the phone. 

Resource management 

While each call may be unique depending on your situation, advocates may offer resources to support you in your situation. Many domestic violence hotlines are focused on immediate crises and may connect you with a local shelter or emergency housing. 

A hotline can also connect you with support groups, counselors, legal advisers, and other advocates. A hotline advocate will not tell you which option is best for you but can help you weigh them as you decide. Hotlines can also provide information about shelters, and you can search through an online database as you talk to find local options. 

A hotline counselor may also help you create a "safety plan." If you are considering leaving an abusive situation, it might not be safe to walk out or make a solid plan in the presence of the person abusing you. A safety plan can help you determine how to leave without risking harm to you, your family, or your pets. 

The National Domestic Violence Hotline also offers a language line, which allows callers to speak with advocates in over 140 languages. Through the National Deaf Domestic Violence Hotline (NDDVH), advocates are available 24/7 via TTY and live chat to help people affected by domestic violence who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing.

If you and your advocate create a safety plan, they might stay on the line with you while you reach out to other services or pack your items to leave. They might also ask if you need a follow-up or support in setting up an appointment with a counselor. 

What happens after you call? 

What happens after you call a domestic violence hotline can be up to you and your unique situation. After talking with a hotline advocate, you may have clarity on what you want to do next or seek additional time to figure out the best course of action. If you're not ready to leave your relationship, calling a domestic violence hotline may give you a better understanding of abuse, whether your relationship is unhealthy, and what resources are available when you're ready. 

Hotline counselors may not be allowed to tell you what steps to take or influence your decision-making. However, they can provide thoughtful support and help you evaluate your options. They may also let you know if your experiences are dangerous and how to reach out for support in an emergency. As you talk to the counselor, you might come up with solutions. However, you can ask questions if you're not sure how to proceed on your own. 

At times, being able to talk about your challenges or struggles with a caring professional may feel like enough to move forward. Objectivity can be reassuring, and speaking with a counselor might offer clarity if you're unsure whether a situation is abusive. This comfort of "talking it through" can also benefit friends and family witnessing or observing abuse to someone they love.  

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Moving forward after domestic violence can be scary

Counseling options 

Support is available whether you are a perpetrator or a survivor of domestic violence. In addition to reaching out to a domestic violence hotline, other discreet and affordable services are available to survivors, including online counseling. Online therapy can provide individuals with an internet connection to receive comprehensive care from home or any location. 

If you are in a situation where commuting to and from an office may be difficult because of a controlling partner, online therapy may be a helpful alternative. With online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp, you can speak with a therapist from wherever is most convenient for you, as long as you have an internet connection. 

Online therapy has been proven effective for survivors of intimate partner violence. For instance, one study found that internet-delivered cognitive-behavioral therapy (I-CBT) significantly reduced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression for survivors of intimate partner violence.

If you are experiencing a living situation that feels unsafe or unsustainable, a supportive relationship with an online therapist may provide guidance and encouragement to make a positive change. You deserve to feel safe and heard, and speaking with someone, whether through a hotline or therapist, can be beneficial. 

Takeaway

If you are experiencing domestic violence or know someone who is, it can feel intimidating to reach out for support. Knowing what to expect before you call may offer you confidence in reaching out. If you're ready to discuss your relationship concerns, consider contacting a therapist for guidance and long-term support.
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