Ever wondered who is on the other end of calls to The Hotline? Meet Devynn, an advocate who has been with The Hotline since 2003. Devynn has a background in social work, anthropology and women’s studies. During our conversation, it became very clear just how passionate she is about what she does.
Q. How did you become interested in advocating for domestic violence? What brought you here?
A. It was kind of a natural progression. I was in social work for a number of years and then began teaching. But even then I was always volunteering. I volunteered in Houston when I lived there. I was actually a founding volunteer of the Houston Area Women’s Center. And then I moved to Ireland for several months to work on my dissertation for my PhD in Women’s Studies and sex trafficking. I couldn’t stay and finish, though. When I came back I started working here.
Q. What aspects of your job satisfy you the most?
A. As trite as it might sound, giving someone support when they don’t think there is any. When they get off of the phone they say, “You really listened to me. Thank you.” That’s really nice. To have someone say, “Thank you for listening. I had no one,” shows me that there’s a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel.
Q. Why do you continue to advocate for domestic violence?
A. It’s important. I had an acquaintance of mine who said, “You know, you’re not going to change this. There’s always going to be domestic violence. There’s always going to be sex trafficking.” And I said, “Yeah, I can’t save the world, but at least I can make it a little bit better.” So that’s the way I look at it sometimes.
Q. What are some common myths about domestic violence that you see regularly?
A. “What did she do to push his buttons? She must have done something. You don’t just hit people or scream and yell at them. So, what did she do?” That one and the other one is, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” Those are probably the most common.
Q. How do you react when someone says something like that to you?
A. I just say, it’s never that simple. And, there is no excuse for domestic violence. None.
Q. What message do you have for someone who is recently out of an abusive relationship?
A. Reach out for support… because a lot of time they’ve been so isolated. Their abuser has pushed all of their friends away. Their family won’t talk to them. I usually talk about trying to reestablish connections and trying to get involved in whatever they think they can do. And take care of themselves. A lot of times they’re so disconnected that they don’t know where to start. I’ll just tell them to start with a support group at their local program so they can talk to people.
Q. What advice do you give to a teenager who is in their first relationship?
A. I talk to them about peer pressure and about how sometimes people are in a relationship just because it’s cool or because their friends think that he’s a cool guy. They think that if they leave this relationship they’ll never have anyone else. I take that seriously. I talk to them about the kind of relationship that they have with their parents, or if they have another adult that they feel comfortable talking to. I try to tell them that domestic violence doesn’t just happen to older people – it can happen to anyone. I try to give them websites to look at and always let them know about The National Dating Abuse Helpline.
Q. What are some reasons that people give for their hesitance to call The Hotline?
A. Some people think that regardless of what we say that we’re not really anonymous — that we’re going to turn them into CPS or that we’re going to send out the police or that somehow their abuser is going to know that they called. I try to assure them that we are an anonymous, confidential hotline. Now, if they give us information about child abuse and give us details we are required by law to report it, but we explain that. They think that we’re going to call immigration. Or sometimes they want to make sure they don’t get someone in trouble. I just tell them that they aren’t getting their partner in trouble – their partner is doing that all on their own. I tell them that it’s common for an abuser to blame their victim for their actions. Also, a lot of times people call and say, “Well this isn’t domestic violence because he’s just yelling at me.” They don’t understand that domestic violence has all of these different dimensions to it. Or that no one else believes them, so why would we. People will say, “You’re going to think I’m crazy if I tell you this.” I say, “Go right ahead. That’s what abusers often tell their partners. I’m not here to judge, I’m just here to listen.”
Advocates like Devynn are on the frontlines of our organization. They are the people that you speak with when you call, they listen to you when you need support and they connect you with resources when you’re in need.
If you or a loved one is experiencing domestic violence and wish to speak with an advocate, please give us a call at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).