NFL "Millions" Boost Hotline
The National Domestic Violence Hotline has more money, but also more calls to answer
By Sarah Marloff, Fri., Jan. 23, 2015
In October – just weeks after video of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking his fiancée unconscious became public – the National Football League announced they would donate "multiple millions over multiple years" to the Austin-based National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Though the unexpected sum was given to the call center late in 2014, the money has already done wonders. According to NDVH CEO Katie Ray-Jones, the hotline has been able to backfill positions and convert volunteers to full-time employees – hiring a total of 35 advocates since the video's release on Sept. 8.
As useful as the donation has been, Ray-Jones explains that whenever a domestic violence story is in the media, the call center's volume dramatically increases. "After the Chris Brown-Rihanna incident [in 2009], when Oprah Winfrey had talked about it on her show – each time we've seen huge spikes," says Ray-Jones, who has been with the hotline since 2009, and was promoted to CEO four months ago. "Afterwards, the number of calls never goes back to the original level."
After TMZ released the Rice video in September, the hotline's phones began to ring nonstop. In November, Ray-Jones says the center was receiving approximately 1,000 to 1,300 calls each day. Now, with 2014's numbers fully tallied, Chief Communications Officer Cameka Crawford confirms that the hotline saw an 84% increase in the number of contacts after Sept. 8. "Contacts" refers to the total number of calls, texts, and online chats the NDVH receives. Even today, several months later, that number has not returned "to the same levels before the video was released," as Crawford clarified over email.
In total, the hotline fielded 377,968 contacts in 2014 – a 14% increase from 2013. And while "multiple millions" (the exact number has still not been publicly released) may sound like enough money to accommodate the increased work, the hotline had taken a serious blow to its budget earlier in 2014. Ray-Jones says that $200,000 was cut, leaving the NDVH severely understaffed for the better part of the year. She describes the days after Sept. 8 as a "whirlwind – we saw a huge increase from people looking for help for their first time." With the decreased staff, the hotline was forced to let roughly 50% of the calls go unanswered.
When the NFL reached out a week later asking how they could help – an indirect acknowledgment of their embarrassingly lax stance toward domestic violence – Ray-Jones carefully looked over the hotline's data before responding with a list of needs. Within 24 hours, the NFL had made a verbal commitment. "As a result of the NFL's donation, the hotline was able to hire more advocates to answer more calls during peak times," summarizes Crawford. "Since the new advocates have come on board, we've been able to answer nearly 80% of the contacts we receive."
Despite the sometimes overwhelming numbers, the hotline's staff considers the rise in contacts a positive outcome. "It's a bittersweet experience," explains Ray-Jones. "As advocates, we get a moment when we're so glad there's more conversation happening around this issue, but we're also saddened that a video like that has to happen in order to spark a national conversation." She reminds us that domestic violence is not just an issue when it's on the news – "This happens every day." Currently, one in three teenagers nationwide will be victims of dating violence, as will one in four adult women and one in seven adult men.
Many Austinites are unaware that the home base for the hotline is right here in West Austin. The NDVH answered its first phone call in February 1996, less than two years after President Bill Clinton signed the Violence Against Women Act into law, authorizing the government's creation of the hotline. Presidents Bush and Obama both re-signed VAWA. Most recently, in 2013, Obama reauthorized the act with extended protection for Native Americans and the LGBT community.
But the NDVH is not the only organization within city limits that's working to end domestic violence. SafePlace and the Texas Advocacy Project are just two of the local nonprofits helping survivors. In 2013, TAP provided legal services for 4,506 cases, helping victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Though they're still aggregating their numbers for 2014, Executive Director Heather Bellino expects that they'll be close to 2013's despite the fact that they lost two of their attorneys.
While Bellino is happy that the NFL decided to help by donating to the NDVH, she does wish they'd been a bit more strategic with their funding. "It's wonderful of them to support NDVH, but it's tricky," she says. "The NDVH is a referral service, we do direct service. And since more people are being referred, direct services have an increase in traffic without an increase in funding. It would have been nice if they also thought about how they could help fund local providers, as well."
Bellino confirms that TAP has seen an increase in clients over the last six months, but she can't be sure if it has to do with Ray Rice, the NFL, or the NDVH. "What the NFL did is a start," she adds. "And we have to start somewhere. But ... we always have more clients than we can handle, so funding is really important to us as well."
As for the NDVH, Crawford says that the NFL's support has helped them "close the gap on the number of calls that go unanswered. However, we still have funds to raise so that no call goes unanswered."
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is staffed around the clock, 365 days a year, at 800/799-SAFE. For info on the Texas Advocacy Project, visit www.texasadvocacyproject.org.
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