NFL partnership, donations, helping National Domestic Violence Hotline answer thousands more calls

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The holidays are a time for hope, the promise of a new year on the horizon. But for many, it can be a temporary distraction to a deep-rooted issue. Domestic violence. Next year will mark the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s (NDVH) 20th anniversary. Two decades, spent helping change millions of lives. And saving them.

KXAN checked in with the hotline, on track to take its 4 millionth call for help.

Beginning in January through the end of October 2015, the hotline answered 88, 515 more calls, chats, and text messages than it did in the same time period last year. That’s a 48 percent increase in response. KXAN spoke with a hotline representatives about what makes the growth possible, and one woman, who was there when the NDVH became a reality.

“I was in fear of my life. And the final assault could have been my death,” Anna Belle Burleson told KXAN. “The experiences from that time are certainly crucial to who I am today, they no longer DEFINE my life.”

Burleson is a domestic violence survivor and advocate, and remembers a time when the hotline didn’t exist.

“30 years ago there was no national hotline to call,” Anna Burleson said, reflecting on the abuse from her on and off husband of 10 years. “Fortunately, SafePlace did have a local hotline and free counseling services. So I was able to access those.”

Burleson says she was lucky enough, “to be able to turn away, scoop up my son, and find my way to the SafePlace shelter, where SafePlace literally saved my life.”

It was through her work with the local non-profit SafePlace, that she was offered an opportunity to help make history.

“It was a very, very exciting time.”

Burleson was the NDVH’s first program director.

“I was there for that first call,” she said.

Burleson was there for the first call, and here now to know the hotline’s struggle to keep up with demand.

“The piece that keeps me up at night, is knowing there’s not enough resources to answer every call,” Chief Communications Officer for NDVH, Cameka Crawford, said.

In 2014, the hotline received upwards of 377,000 calls, chats and texts. Of those, more than 145,000 did not get answered because of a lack of resources, and one game-changing video.

“The release of the Ray Rice video (showing NFL player Ray Rice knocking his then-fiance unconscious) was really, it was – and in that time immediately following was really transitional. Not only just for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, but for the country,” Crawford said. “For the first time, we were hearing from callers that said, you know, I thought this was just me. I didn’t know this happened to other people. Or we were hearing from abusive partners, who were saying I don’t want this to be me.”

“Shortly after the release of that video a little over a year ago, we saw immediately our contacts increase by 84 percent. And that number hasn’t gone down. And so the NFL saw what that was doing to us – like, our website crashed.”

Crawford says a 5-year, $25 million commitment from the NFL, along with other partner contributions, is allowing the NDVH to close the gap.

“We were able, for the first time in the history of our organization, to hire someone just to look at the data that’s coming in, so that are, you know, looking at when calls are coming in, when we’re at the peak so we’re able to staff,” Crawford explained.

Contributions have also helped upgrade infrastructure and technology, with projects currently underway.

“Since last year, we’ve actually increased the number of advocates by 33 percent. And again, that’s as a result of the commitment from the NFL,” Crawford said. “We’ve answered more than 82,000 more than we answered at the same time last year.”

Thousands more calls, that can bridge the gap to a new life.

“I think of the work of the hotline and many of the services for domestic violence – that work is about planting seeds. Because battered women leave many times and go back. But every time that she reaches out for a little bit of help, WE have the opportunity to plant seeds. And give her a little bit of information and a little bit of education about the cycle of violence,” Burleson told KXAN. “Eventually, those seeds are going to sprout. And she’s gonna begin to see and understand what’s really going on, and realize how crucial it is to get herself and her children out of that situation.”

The hotline says it takes about $20 to answer each call. If you figure the roughly 145,000 calls that went unanswered in 2014, the hotline was nearly $3 million short.

“I think when people hear, you know, you’ve got the NFL or you’ve got the government or these large partners, the thought is, well the hotline doesn’t need anything else. The hotline is set. But when there is even one, two, 100,000 calls that go unanswered, we still need individuals to donate. We still need individual contributions,” Crawford explained.

Contributions to help others, walking in Burleson’s shoes or looking to help a loved one who is.

When asked how she would describe herself 30 years ago, Burleson said lost. Today, “I’m borrowing from a dear, dear friend of mine, and I would say I’m a survivor extraordinaire.”

“MAKE the call. I was lucky enough to get out and make it to the other side, that’s my wish for you too. And life is beautiful here,” Burleson said.

If you or someone you know is in need of help, call the 24/7 confidential hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE.

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