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Calls Up, Funding Down, For Domestic Violence Hotline

For victims of domestic violence, the courage to get help can come at odd hours. 

That’s why shelter advocates say 24-hour hotlines are so important. 

More than 12,000 calls a year are made to domestic hotlines across Vermont.  It’s a number that’s rising at the same time federal funding is dropping.  

In Rutland, the situation has prompted shelter advocates to reach out to the community for help.

Karis Williams is Clinical Services Director at the Rutland County Women’s Shelter.  She’s also one of 4 staff members who answers the hotline when calls come in after hours or on weekends.  “We would go for two or three days with no calls,” she said, “now we’re getting no less than four to five on a weekend.”

The increase in demand for all shelter services has been dramatic.

Marianne Kennedy, Executive Director of the Rutland shelter, blames the rise on a shortage of affordable housing, the sluggish economy and better awareness of domestic violence.  She says in 2011, they had to turn away 89 women. “And this year, 277 women had to be turned away because we don’t have enough space,” according to Kennedy.

Karis Williams say that’s why it’s so important to maintain a 24-7 hotline. “Because very frequently that’s the only time or the first time someone will hear that this isn’t your fault and there’s help out there.”

And even if they don’t have space in the shelter, Williams says they can still provide lots of vital information.  “It could be housing options, whether they’ll need shelter.”  Or Williams says, “it could be financial;  you want to flee the area but you don’t have gas money, let’s see how we can help you; what agency is there to help.”   Or she says, “sometimes it’s a sexual assault and they’re wondering do I go to the hospital or do I not?   What happens if I report it what happens if I don’t report it?”

Williams admits handling emergency calls can be stressful and it’s easy for overworked staff to get burned out. “I still get a little anxious every time the phone rings - what if this is the one time when I don’t’ know how to answer this person?”

Williams says increasing demand is why they’re reaching out to the community to be hotline volunteers.  They want good listeners who can handle crisis situations calmly.  She says qualified applicants will take a rigorous 32-hours of training and would always be backed up by staff. 

“I’m hoping that because of everything that’s been going on, people will really realize the necessity of helping,” says Williams.  “Because for many who call, it’s truly a matter of life and death.

Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence

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