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volunteer spotlight

Meet A Volunteer: Amalie

Here at The Hotline, much of the work we do is made possible by the dedication and effort of our volunteers. We met up with Hotline volunteer Amalie, one of our many advocates on the receiving end of the calls, to talk with her about her experience working here.


How did you become interested in advocating for victims and survivors of domestic violence?

I’ve volunteered for the past 5-6 years. I worked for a citizen review board that monitored children that had been in foster care or in homes with domestic violence — so I had seen a lot of domestic violence before in families. I knew that this was an area I wanted to pursue further.

How did you feel when you answered your first call?

I was really nervous – nervous that I wasn’t going to be able to provide the right tone, and that I was going to seem like I was nervous talking to them. I was worried that I wasn’t going to have the knowledge to give them all of the resources that they needed.

My first call turned out fine. Once you just start talking to a caller, you realize that you can find common ground, and that you’re not in completely different places. It wasn’t as overwhelming as I thought it would be.

What aspects of your job satisfy you the most?

So many! After every phone call, I know that even if the caller doesn’t use the resources I’ve given them, at least they’ve made the phone call, which is a positive first step. Hopefully after the call they know that there’s hope for change.

I like taking the time to speak with the callers — for callers to receive any kind of validation can be huge. I am not there to fix the callers problems or tell them what’s the right path. I can only try my hardest to provide the callers with safe resources and avenues to do this, so they can gain back the quality of life and respect they deserve. If I can help the caller with this in any small way, I have been rewarded in an invaluable way.

You receive calls from family and friends who might be concerned about a loved one. What would you say to someone who’s frustrated and wondering, “Why won’t they just leave?”

It’s just not that easy. The person in the relationship can be scared. They can feel very confused. They can feel at fault. There was a reason initially that they got into that relationship or fell in love with that person.

I try to explain that they should consider giving their loved one support and space to process their feelings. The victim is already being controlled and overwhelmed by their abuser. Telling them what they should do or trying to do it for them only pushes the victim deeper into their isolation. By giving them non-judgmental support and an environment that feels safe they can be empowered to make the necessary changes through their own actions and self-discovery.

Do you receive any calls from abusers?

Yes. Regardless if the caller is an abuser, I still keep an unbiased tone. The fact that they’re calling is a positive step. Most callers that identify as abusers are seeking help. Whether that’s court appointed or they’ve seen behaviors in themselves that they want to change, I try to be supportive of that and try to find them resources in their area.

What are some common myths about domestic violence that you see regularly?

One myth is that it’s easy to leave and the women who stay are just weak. It’s so much more complicated then that. It’s a web. A victim needs to be slowly able to crawl out of it, and catch their footing. There are just so many different dynamics.

The one that really gets to me is this: the victim must have done something to initially start the abuse. WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?! No one should EVER justify any form of abuse in relationships. It is never okay and never the victims fault. The abuser is making a distinct choice to react to their emotions in a certain way. They could have just as easily taken a long run or left the relationship.

What message do you have for someone who is recently out of an abusive relationship?

I get phone calls from people who have been out of their abusive relationship for 15 years and they’re just calling now to seek counseling. The fact that they’re reaching out now for support is huge.

There’s a lot of trauma after leaving an abusive relationship. Whether you’re a family or friend of someone who has gone through an abusive relationship, or the survivor yourself, there are support groups out there. You do not have to endure the journey alone. It’ll take time — it’s a process.

The healing process is unpredicatable, so don’t be disheartened if some days are harder than others. Be okay with the fact that it’s not going to be easy. And allow yourself that space to acknowledge and be be aware of what you need. And it’ll be hard. If you feel sad, and feel defeated on some levels – be okay with that, and you can move on from there. By leaving your abuser you have won the biggest battle. … One foot in front of the other.

Final thoughts about your experience at The Hotline?

Volunteering here has been a really beautiful thing for me. Every time I come in here, I’m learning something myself based on how I react to different calls and the feelings I’m left with after the phone calls. These callers re-ground me constantly and I am constantly blown away the incredible strength within these women and men. I am grateful for what they’ve taught me.

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Meet an Advocate: Devynn

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).

a day in the life of an advocate

A Day in the Life

It was summer in Austin, Texas and the temperature was hovering close to three-digits. Mary, an advocate at The Hotline who has been with the organization for five years, was sitting in her cubicle. The air conditioner was blowing but she could still feel the heat blaring in from the full-length windows to her left.

She had been at work for the past seven hours and was counting down the minutes until the end of her shift. By then, she’d answered close to 30 calls from people seeking support, information and aid. She was tired and emotionally drained.

She looked at the print of a landscape that she has pinned to her gray cubicle wall and put her head in her hand. She imagined that the white noise (created by a discretely hidden machine across the room) was the sound of the river pictured in her landscape.

Her phone rang and she was pulled back into reality. She took a deep breath. She answered.

The caller was an adult woman in her mid-thirties. She lived somewhere on the upper east coast in a home that she bought and paid for herself. She had a good job and was proud of her life. She described herself as being strong in her faith.

The caller explained that she had been dating her boyfriend for several months. “Well, kind of dating,” she said.

Mary asked what she meant by “kind of.”

The caller told Mary that she would describe their relationship as dating, but that her partner often minimized the relationship. He told her that she wasn’t his girlfriend and that they weren’t together. The caller told Mary that even though her partner said these things, he asked her to spend the night on a regular basis, got jealous when she talked to other men and called her all the time. She was confused.

Mary asked the caller why she thought that her partner was saying these things to her when he was clearly acting in a way that contradicted them.

The caller explained that she refused to sleep with her partner and that had angered him. She said that she felt uncomfortable, like she was violating her faith, engaging in sexual relations with a man that she was not committed to. She didn’t know if she should sleep with him because they are dating – if doing so would change his attitude – or if she should continue to abstain.

Mary told her that her feelings were completely justified and that she shouldn’t do anything that she was uncomfortable with. She explained that what the caller was describing sounded a lot like controlling behavior. She told the caller that her partner might be minimizing the relationship in order to convince her to sleep with him. She then took time to explain the dynamics of relationships – abusive relationships in particular –  and talk with the caller about other things that were happening in the relationship.

After spending 15 minutes on the phone with Mary, the caller sounded more confident and comfortable in her relationship. She told Mary that she understood that her partner was attempting to manipulate her by making their relationship seem less than it was. She understood that that manipulation was a sign that her relationship was unhealthy.

She thanked Mary for speaking with her and then ended the call.

Most calls that Mary takes aren’t straightforward or easy. She deals with pain and anger and sadness on a daily basis. She fights shrinking domestic violence program budgets and long waitlists at shelters every day as she tries to find aid for callers. After all of the adversity that she faces, hearing a caller tell Mary that “she is awesome” is something that she will hold on to.