By Michelle, Development & Marketing Team Member and former Advocate at The Hotline
Deciding to reach out to The Hotline can be extremely difficult. Maybe you struggle to find the right opportunity, or maybe you’re just scared and don’t know what to expect. It can be frustrating to finally gather the courage to call, only to have to answer a bunch of questions before getting the help you need. However, the questions we ask at the start of every conversation help us provide you with the very best possible support for your situation, and help our organization work toward our mission. With the exceptions of the initial safety question and in some cases, your age, you never have to share any information you don’t feel comfortable sharing. To help you prepare, here are some questions you can expect to be asked when you do reach out.
“Are you currently safe to talk?”
At the beginning of any conversation, our advocates will first confirm whether you are safe to talk to us. If you aren’t sure of your answer, ask yourself if there is anyone around who might hurt you if they found out you were talking to us. If the answer is no, you’re probably safe. If the answer is yes, that probably means right now is not the best time to be reaching out. Your safety is our #1 priority, and we never want you to do anything that is going to put you in more danger. The Hotline cannot send help to your location, so we always encourage you to call 911 if you are in need of emergency assistance.
“What is your age, race, and gender?”
Your advocate (or pre-chat survey, if you’re chatting online) will next ask you some demographic questions, such as your age, race/ethnicity, and gender. We recognize that answering these questions, especially about race, can be triggering for some people. Remember that you never have to answer any questions you don’t feel comfortable answering. The only exception is that if you are chatting with us, you do have to share your age. This is due to legal restrictions that prohibit us from chatting with individuals under 13 years of age.
We ask demographic information for a few reasons. Firstly, knowing this type of information about a caller or chatter helps us provide the very best advocacy for that person’s situation. For example, knowing that a caller is male helps our advocate provide education around specific stigma male survivors may face, and allows them to direct the caller to shelters that serve men (many do not). Learning that a chatter identifies as Native American lets our advocate know to ask whether the abuse occurred on tribal land (which can impact a survivor’s legal choices) and speak to issues of cultural abuse. The more we know about your situation, the better we can support you with appropriate information and resources.
We also use demographic information to understand the populations we serve. This information is so valuable for us as our organization grows and changes, as it lets us identify where we are doing well and where there is still work to be done. For example, we can ask questions like “What populations aren’t reaching out to us? What obstacles might those groups be facing and how can we address them?” or “What types of web content and advocate training can we develop around groups that are starting to seek our services in larger numbers?” Collecting demographic information ultimately helps our organization move forward in a direction to best support those who reach out to us.
The last main reason we collect demographic information is to help us maintain and secure funding. Our funders want to know what populations we are serving, and statistics help us share that information with them in meaningful ways. Our funding, however, is not dependent on the content of information we gather. We are not granted more money for serving higher numbers of any specific population, and we do not have demographic quotas that we must meet. Knowing information about those who reach out allows us to seek funding to develop programs and initiatives specifically geared toward better serving certain groups.
“How did you hear about us?”
This question is a bit more straightforward. We like to ask how you heard about us so we know how well we are publicizing our organization. Some generous corporate funders also help to promote our services, and we love recognizing their impact when someone has learned about us from one of their initiatives. Your answer to this question helps us learn what we’re doing that is or isn’t working, and hopefully reach as many people as we possibly can.
“Have you talked with an advocate in the past?”
While your advocate will always meet you with empathy, respect and validation no matter how many times you’ve reached out, it can be helpful for them to know whether this is your first time. If it’s not, your advocate might ask what resources we’ve shared with you in the past and how those worked out for you, so we aren’t giving you the same information as last time. They might also ask what has changed since the last time you contacted us so we can understand how the safety plan you formulated in the past has been working for you. Remember that The Hotline is not meant to provide long-term support, so if you find yourself having to reach out to us frequently, let your advocate know you’d like a resource that can provide you with longer-term care, such as a counselor in your area.
Again, aside from your safety and possibly age, you never have to share any information with your advocate that you aren’t comfortable sharing. You are only required to share your age if you reach out via chat or text, so if you know you don’t want to share that information, please call us instead. Remember that we ask these questions to ultimately provide you with the very best possible support for your situation, and to help us achieve our vision of a world where all relationships are positive, healthy, and free from violence. Whenever you’re ready to reach out, our advocates will be here 24/7/365 by phone at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) and by chat at www.thehotline.org.