Survivors Can Now Text For Help
By Amanda Kippert
Let’s face it—there are talkers and then there are texters. Some of us are seemingly allergic to phone calls—all that small talk and figuring out how to wrap up the call and wondering what to do with awkward pauses. Thank goodness someone invented texting, the savior of introverts and phone-phobic individuals everywhere.
And now, texting is doing even more good for the world as a means of connecting survivors of domestic violence to advocates ready to help with support, advice and a safety plan for separating from an abuser when ready.
SafetNest is a domestic violence crisis advocacy nonprofit and shelter in Clark County, Nevada. It’s been helping survivors since 1977—42 years, or “since domestic violence became illegal,” says their CEO Liz Ortenburger. The organization’s outreach spans from Las Vegas to eight rural communities surrounding it. Their crisis line receives some 20,000 phone calls a year.
In January, they officially launched their texting program, meaning survivors and others alike can reach an advocate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by texting 702-646-4981(or 800-486-7282 outside of Las Vegas).
They join the likes of The National Domestic Violence Hotline, which rolled out a dating abuse texting service in 2011. Teens and 20-somethings can ask questions about dating abuse and healthy relationships by texting “loveis” to 77054 to directly connect to a peer advocate. (Survivors of any age can call their hotline at 800-799-SAFE or chat online with an advocate.)
Think about this: You’re currently with an abusive partner and need help. You’re on a bus and you see a sign for SafeNest’s crisis line. Calling an advocate and having an in-depth conversation about what you’re going through, within earshot of a bunch of strangers, is too uncomfortable to bear.
Or, an abusive partner is in the next room. You’re afraid and don’t know what to do, but he or she will be able to hear you if you call a helpline. And you certainly can’t leave the house without suspicion.
But texting can be done privately. No one can hear that conversation. Including, says Ortenburger, the abuser.
“Texting is an ideal option for survivors who can rarely find a moment of space from an overbearing abuser,” she says.
Another bonus: SafeNest can translate texts from 26 different languages, providing vital help for survivors for whom English is not their primary language.
Texting survivors back is one of up to 80 trained advocates who staff SafeNest’s phone (and text) bank monthly.
While they don’t have the exact numbers tabulated yet, Ortenburger says yes, people are taking advantage of the new feature, including police, who text SafeNest the address of a domestic violence situation so volunteer advocates can meet them and provide support to survivors. Applying for an emergency temporary order of protection can also be done via text.
“After an abuser has been arrested, a [Clark County] survivor can text us and do an emergency protection order or our volunteer advocates will assist them in doing that,” she explains. The emergency order is done digitally and lasts for seven days.
Is It Safe?
Certainly, the merits of a silent conversation are evident for people trapped in abuse—”A survivor’s only private time may be using the bathroom, and that verbal communication is a threat to their safety,” says Ortenburger. But texts are saved—what if an abuser finds them?
“At the end of every communication or when the call ends, an automatic text goes out that says please make sure this conversation is deleted or made safe however best you can,” says Ortenburger.
Also, the communication is privileged, meaning, if asked, SafeNest will not disclose to anyone, including an attorney, that they spoke to a specific survivor.
However, texts do run through the phone company, a concern Ortenburger says SafeNest ran past focus groups when trying to decide on help options—texting, online chatting or something else. But what they decided, she says, was that it should ultimately be a survivor’s choice how to reach out for help.
“When we did focus groups with victims it was, let us decide, stop making decisions for us, and let us decide. And that’s become the eternal battle cry around a lot of things we want to digitize.”
Some Areas Allow You to Text 9-1-1
For those who are unable to call 9-1-1 due to safety concerns, there is a nationwide effort to implement a text-to-9-1-1 feature. It’s limited right now, but the FCC says they’re working on making it more widely available. Check this list, or check with your provider to see if it’s offered in your city or state. Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont are among those states who currently offer it statewide.