Funding for Domestic Violence Hotline Could Double

A hotline to cool tempers

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett at the National Domestic Violence Hotline 25th anniversary celebration in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 14 (Courtesy of Lloyd Doggett's office)

It's National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and as good a time as any to face the fact that the National Domestic Violence Hotline (based here in Austin) is currently experiencing the highest demand for its services in its 25-year history. As U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, put it to us, the pandemic led to "a disturbing upswing in domestic violence." In fact, the hotline answered more than 400,000 calls, chats, and texts in 2021 – the most ever in one year.

The good news is that federal funding for the hotline may well double in 2023, and Dog­gett is championing $1 million on top of that for a separate initiative to develop a progressive new hotline to disrupt violence before it starts. The $27 million for the existing hotline that the House has passed (and that President Joe Biden has expressed support for in the President's Budget – basically his administration's federal budget wish list) would allow the hotline to hire more than 100 new front-line advocates, including bilingual staff, 25 new staff for program services support, and some prevention and health relationship specialists for the hot­line's Love Is Respect program, which teaches young people about healthy relationships.

And for the second time, the House has included the $1 million needed for a thorough study of the most effective way to disrupt cycles of violence and counsel people who cause harm. "We just need to get the Senate on board for this relatively small amount," Doggett said. He was inspired by an intervention hotline in the UK called the Respect Phoneline, which began in 2004. (A Massachusetts pilot program in 2021 took a similar approach with the 10 to 10 Helpline.) While the NDV Hotline focuses on victims of violence, the UK and Massachusetts lines serve potential perpetrators of violence. "It's not a men's helpline. It's a helpline for anybody who is using control and abuse," Monica Moran, manager of the Massachusetts hotline, told Boston 25 News when the line opened. The line (which gets its name from being open 10am to 10pm) offers people who cause harm options for immediate counseling and support to nip dangerous urges in the bud.

"A world free from violence begins with a home free from violence," Doggett said. "Often, permanent separation is the only choice, but our goal is to seek out those situations where appropriate intervention can prevent any recurrence of violence and keep a family together with a better, safer future."

The $1 million Doggett is advocating for is set aside solely for a thorough study of the most effective way to disrupt cycles of violence and counsel people who cause harm. When the results of that study are in, Doggett's office will seek more funding to operationalize whichever prevention efforts the study's findings would support.

Whether or not the research points to a hotline for abusive partners, it seems that there's demand for such a resource – the NDV Hotline told the Chronicle that perpetrators of violence make up less than 1% of people who contact them, but so far in 2022, about 2,000 people who contacted the hotline self-identified as abusive partners.

The SAFE Alliance (Stop Abuse for Everyone), a local nonprofit with its own hotline, sees a similar trend. The vast majority of callers are the targets of violence or trying to help a loved one get out of an abusive relationship, but they also get calls from people who worry about their own controlling or manipulative behavior in relationships. Valeria Perez, a spokesperson for SAFE, says one roadblock to getting help for violent partners is the fear of law enforcement, so a hotline geared toward them needs to be "very well-thought-out, because I don't know that people who use violence would reach out if they thought they could get in trouble. … We sure have had the experience where people contact our SAFEline to talk through their own behavior – but it is very anonymous."

Of course, passage of this funding is no guarantee. Congress passed almost the same amount for the hotline last year, but it hit a wall in the Senate, and the hotline ended up getting about $15 million, close to the amount Biden's budget called for. But now the president is on board with greater spending. (When asked what changed on Biden's end, Doggett had a simple answer: The NDV Hotline's call volume has continuously increased.) Advocates like those at SAFE, though, have trust in Dog­gett's efforts. "I don't remember a time when Rep. Doggett was not advocating for survivors and the services to support them," Perez said.

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Lloyd Dogget, National Domestic Violence Hotline, Joe Biden

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