What Does Calling A Domestic Violence Hotline Do?

By: Sarah Fader

Updated January 27, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Kelly L. Burns, MA, LPC, ATR-P

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Domestic violence, also called intimate partner violence, “involves the physical, sexual, financial, and emotional abuse of one person by another in order to intimidate, humiliate or frighten the victim as a way of maintaining power and control.” It’s not uncommon for individuals in domestic violence situations to make excuses for an abuser or deny that what is happening constitutes abuse. Sometimes, these individuals don’t know where to turn, especially if they don’t want to involve law enforcement. Aside from the abuse itself, these additional difficulties can prevent people facing domestic violence from accessing help. Unfortunately, many abusers will continue unchecked if their target of abuse feels unable to escape or find assistance.

Domestic violence hotlines exist for this exact type of situation. Anyone can call these free hotlines, 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Whether you are the recipient of abuse, the perpetrator of abuse, or a third party in need of advice on behalf of someone enduring domestic abuse, you can call anonymously and receive help. The National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Additionally, teen survivors of domestic abuse can call Love Is Respect, a dedicated hotline for minors, at 1-866-331-9474. Love Is Respect also offers a text line and an online chat feature.

If you are in a situation that makes you feel that you must call a domestic violence hotline, first know that you are not alone. About 60 percent of callers to these hotlines are first-time callers. You may wonder what happens after you dial, message, or text these services. This article will take you through what to expect when you call a domestic violence hotline.

Are You Safe to Talk?

The first question most hotlines will ask is, “Are you safe to talk?” The reason hotlines begin with this question is that an abuser may be triggered by a target’s action of calling for help. If you are not in a safe environment to speak, the advocate or counselor receiving your call may advise you to call 911, or 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 perceived loss of control, it may be wise to delete the number or website from your phone after contacting a hotline.

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Once you've cleared whether it's safe to talk, the advocate will want to know more information about your situation. How much information you share is up to you. You can choose to give specific details like names or stick with vague terms. You might want to discuss a recent event or lay out the timeline that has led you to call. The advocate will likely ask you what steps you've taken or are ready to take to help you figure out what your next steps might be.

Part of the benefit of calling a domestic violence hotline is the opportunity to talk things over with someone who listens and has experience with similar situations. A counselor will not give you advice or specific directions on what you should do, but they will help you talk about your options so you can make an informed decision on your own.

Hotline advocates will also ask if you're taking care of yourself. Abusive relationships can be taxing in many ways. Even simpler things like a bath, a nice breakfast, or other self-care activities can help make you feel better about the situation so that you're strong enough to take your next step.

Choices Hotlines Offer:

  • A hotline can connect you with support groups, counselors, legal advisers, and other advocates. Hotline advocates cannot advise you to contact police or press charges, but some of these other trained sources may. A counselor will not tell you which option is best for you but will help you weigh them as you decide.
  • Hotlines also provide advocacy for callers to get them into shelters and other programs if needed. They can also connect you to specific local agencies, or you can find them here.
  • The national hotline includes counselors who speak English and Spanish, as well as a TTY line for deaf callers during normal business hours. Not every hotline offers multilingual advocates, but they will try to connect you with someone who can understand and converse with you.
  • Hotlines always offer anonymity. You will never be asked to name yourself, an abuser, or a person you are concerned about. If you choose to do so, that information will remain completely confidential. An advocate will not share information from your call with anyone.
  • A hotline counselor will help you create a “safety plan.” If you are considering leaving an abusive situation, the safest way may not be by simply walking out the door. An abuser who sees this as the ultimate loss of control may lash out violently. A safety plan means that you’ll be able to leave without risking harm to you or anyone else and settle into a safe situation elsewhere.

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What Happens Next

What happens after you call a domestic violence hotline is entirely up to you. As they do not offer therapy or direct advice, it is wholly dependent on your choices. If you want to attempt to work things out, advocates can point you in the direction of therapists and counselors. You can also search for and access therapists on sites like BetterHelp.

If you're not ready to leave or not interested in going to a shelter, then calling a domestic violence hotline may give you a better understanding of abuse and whether your relationship is unhealthy. Counselors hope that providing people in abusive situations with someone they can trust to talk with will give those individuals an "aha" moment—clarity and understanding of their situation through talking.

Hotline counselors are not allowed to directly tell you what steps to take or influence your decision making, and this restriction is for a reason: if they gave advice that led to someone being harmed, they could be held legally liable. Since these counselors are limited to listening and helping evaluate options, some callers feel frustrated at the lack of definitive answers. However, if you choose to call and can then decide on your own course of action, you can take heart and pride in knowing that you have acted independently and with clear judgment.

Sometimes, just being able to share your challenges or struggles with a caring professional is enough. Objectivity can be reassuring, and if someone is unsure whether a situation is abusive, speaking with a counselor can give them clarity, especially in situations of potential emotional abuse: control issues, gaslighting, or isolating a person from other loved ones. This comfort of “talking it through” can also be a help to concerned family members or friends who call on behalf of others.

If You're Being Abused…

If you are experiencing domestic abuse and call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline for advice, then your call will be answered in less than two minutes. However, if you are in immediate danger, you should call 911 instead. Counselors do not have the power to intervene directly or to call the police for you. The center you're calling could be hundreds of miles away from where you are, and anonymity keeps them from being able to send help in active crisis situations.

It is also important if you're the antagonist in an abusive situation to know that even abusers can reform. Abuse can often be the result of an abuser having been subjected to the same behavior in the past; with proper mental health treatment and a desire to change they can develop new behaviors and break the cycle. A licensed mental health professional can help you look into past traumas, recognize that you have a problem, and try to identify what may contribute to your behaviors and triggers. An antagonist in a domestic violence situation who demonstrates sincere self-awareness and efforts to change may also be less likely to be charged with a crime, in favor of receiving psychological help.

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Whether you are an antagonist or a recipient of domestic violence, remember that there is hope. Domestic violence and intimate partner violence are more mentionable and actionable than ever before, thanks both to national and regional domestic violence hotlines and to broader options in mental healthcare and treatment. Especially as the COVID-19 pandemic has ramped up pressure in domestic situations and in some cases led to increases in domestic-violence-related calls to law enforcement, more individuals have begun to rely on online mental health support services like BetterHelp. If you think that counseling with a mental health professional could help you feel better supported and stronger in your home, then you can pursue help today.

Online therapy is confidential and flexible, so you can schedule sessions when you have the time and privacy. It is also less expensive than in-person therapy, and you can choose how to connect with a compassionate mental health professional: via video chat, phone call, or text messaging. If you are experiencing a living situation that feels unsafe or unsustainable, a supportive relationship with an online therapist through BetterHelp may provide you with the guidance and encouragement you need to make a positive change. You deserve to feel safe and heard, and speaking with someone, either on a hotline or through online therapy, can help.

These BetterHelp users found great support through difficult living situations, too:

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The ease of BetterHelp was important to me, but counselor allows me the grand “I’m seen” feeling. That’s important when speaking in someone’s mental health. I feel comfort in knowing I can discuss and unpack things in my own time. The encouragement I receive from Anthony Shannon allows me to do some work and create some boundaries in other areas of my life. I’ve needed this for a long time.

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