Say “domestic violence,” and images of bruises and black eyes will likely surface. However, SafeLink—the 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week, multilingual, statewide hotline—underscores the need to embrace a much broader definition.
SafeLink, whose number is 877-785-2020 (TTY number 877-521-2601 for the hearing-impaired), is operated by Casa Myrna Vazquez in Boston, New England’s largest domestic violence provider.
Each SafeLink call is answered by an advocate who says, “Hello, this is SafeLink. Are you safe to talk?” The hotline is staffed at all hours by speakers of English, Spanish and Portuguese, with access to a language line for translating other languages.
Once the caller’s immediate safety to speak is established, the advocate listens to the caller’s particular needs, which include, among others: placement into an emergency or transitional living shelter; permanent housing search assistance; legal advocacy, such as obtaining a restraining order; and counseling services. SafeLink’s comprehensive referrals and services extend beyond the immediate need of shelter and those in crisis. In addition, the hotline holistically caters to both male and female callers’ varied needs.
In September, there were 1,768 calls to SafeLink and over 20,000 during the last fiscal year. In one of the calls last month, a woman sounded deeply distressed. She dialed the hotline seeking legal advice regarding the domestic violence she was experiencing. The advocate connected her to one of Casa Myrna’s staff attorneys. Additionally, she gave the caller resources of local legal and domestic violence agencies in her area.
Most importantly perhaps, the advocate validated the caller’s words and the feeling of abuse she was experiencing by employing supportive listening (a technique in which the advocate affirms what the caller is saying) and explained the cycle of domestic violence to which most cases of domestic violence conform: a pattern of control and power that escalates over a period of time that can include but is not limited to physical, emotional, verbal and psychological abuse.
Armed with this basic information, the caller could more fully understand her specific situation. “The call was good and productive because she felt a lot better, was able to verbalize what she wanted and needed to do, and felt more empowered and supported as a result of that call,” said the SafeLink advocate who responded to the woman.
Those who suspect domestic violence occurring in the lives of people they know also contact SafeLink. Through the hotline, people learn about resources to share with the person they know and feedback about other ways to help, such as continuing to offer support.
Beyond the bruises and broken bones—awful as they are—comprehending the full scope of domestic violence with its many nuances is crucial for both the advocates’ work at Casa Myrna’s hotline and for the greater community. If people can name what is happening, callers to the hotline can better access services and resources that represent the first step toward a safe, healthy life. All of us can try to learn more and better inform those around us this October, which marks Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and throughout the year.
The writer is the development and communications assistant at Casa Myrna Vazquez.