Supporting Survivors – A Hotline Responder Blog

It is July 1st, 2016 on a humid summer morning in Richmond, Virginia. Staff and hotline workers are gearing up for a special day at the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. Today, for the first time in over 30 years, the 24/7 Virginia Family Violence and Sexual Assault Hotline is being answered solely here in Richmond, Virginia at the Action Alliance. Prior to this date The Action Alliance shared responsibility of answering the hotline with Project Horizon in Lexington, Virginia.

The day starts quiet as my coworker and I arrive at 7:45 to start our day. I call Project Horizon staff one last time to check for messages from the overnight shift. The overnight hotline staff worker expresses to me how busy of a night it was and wished the Action Alliance all the best with the hotline. I expressed my gratitude towards her and for the entire staff at Project Horizon for answering the hotline and supporting us.

My coworker and I unforward the lines and log into ICAROL, the system that allows us now to chat and text with survivors 24/7.  I made a cup of coffee, took a deep breath, and prepared for the busy day.

 

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The day starts off with a few calls here and there from domestic violence/ sexual assault programs across the state taking their lines back and checking for messages. I hear my coworker take a call from a survivor checking in for shelter in the Chesapeake region. She talks to her, gets her information, and calls the on call for the program in that area to relay the information that this survivor is in need of shelter.

Outside of the hotline room I hear the commotion of my colleagues getting ready to present a webinar to the new and existing programs that wish to utilize our hotline services. Currently the Statewide hotline answers for over 20 programs, which will increase with the signing on new programs starting July 1st.

The afternoon quickly approaches and I receive a call from a survivor of intimate partner violence who had questions about how to get a protective order. I listen to her story, provide emotional support, answer her questions and explain the process of obtaining a protective order, and safety plan with her. I also provide her with the number to her local domestic violence program and let her know what services they could provide to her to offer her additional support and encourage her to reach out to an advocate if she feels comfortable.

As our conversation begins to wrap up I hear my coworker answer the PREA line. PREA stands for Prison Rape Elimination Act and allows us to speak to incarcerated individuals who are experiencing sexual harassment or sexual assault. My coworker listens to his story, informs the caller what the PREA line does, collects his information about the harassment he is experiencing from a correctional officer, gets his consent to make a PREA report.

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My coworker and I document our calls in our call sheet and VADATA and starting chatting about what we are going to eat for lunch. Our conversation quickly becomes interrupted by a call coming in from the LGBTQ line.  In addition to the PREA and statewide hotline, we operate a 24/7 hotline for LGBTQ survivors of intimate partner violence and sexual assault.

While I am on the phone, my colleague receives another call from a survivor from the Fairfax area who was recently sexually assaulted by her boyfriend.  When I hang up from the LGBTQ line I almost immediately get a call from someone in the Virginia Beach area looking for shelter. However, this time it was single female looking for shelter due to homelessness. My tummy growled as I connected her to local homeless services and shelters in her area. While we are a hotline for survivors of violence we get many calls that are not related to violence and still are a resource for those folks.

We quickly eat our lunches at our desk, talk about our pets, and discuss who is working the late night and overnight shifts for our first official weekend that is 24/7. We talk about our plans for the 4th of July Holiday. I let my coworker know that I am working July 4th among many of my other colleagues as well.  Working on a 24/7 hotline for survivors requires willingness of staff to work holidays and weekends that are often spent with families and friends.

The day continues in this fashion for the 8 hours that I am scheduled to work. My coworker and I receive calls, chats, and texts from survivors from survivors, family, friends, and professionals from all over the state seeking support for the violence they or someone they know have experienced.

Our work on the hotline is not always straightforward or easy, it is full of complexities. We hear about pain, anger, trauma, and sadness on a daily basis but our role is critical. We offer compassionate and trauma informed services and crisis intervention to callers around the clock and I am honored and privileged to work with survivors and the incredible the hotline team at the Action Alliance.

 

To reach the hotline call: 1.800.838.8238

To text us text: 1.804.793.9999

To chat: http://www.vadata.org/chat/

To call the LGBTQ hotline call: 1.866.356.6998  (Please note that you can also reach the LGBTQ line through our chat and text feature as well).

Jennifer Gallienne is a Senior Hotline Crisis Specialist and Outreach Specialist here at the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. She has worked at the Action Alliance for 3 years and supports anti-violence work through other community organizations as well. 

 

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call 804.377.0335. 

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

 

Crisis Hotline Response: The Intersection of DV and Suicide

“How do you prepare yourself for a job like that?”

When you are introducing yourself to a new person, it is not long before you are asked “Where do you work?” When I tell them I work as a hotline crisis services specialist, the next question is invariably, “How do you prepare yourself for a job like that?”  The answer is training and very specific training.

As a hotline crisis services specialist at the Action Alliance we provide a 24-hour toll-free system of crisis intervention, support, information and referrals for the entire Commonwealth of Virginia via phone (1.800.838.8238 (v/tty), chat  or text (804-793-9999). We provide a wide variety of information as well as emotional support and need to be prepared for almost any question.

A lot of training happens before anyone takes a call solo. While development is an ongoing process, in addition to sexual assault and domestic violence, we cover broad topics like anti-racism, homelessness, human trafficking; and underserved populations, such as folks who are LGBTQ+ identified or folk who are incarcerated.

Suicide  is one of the many important issues we respond to on the hotline, and today I want to talk more about that issue. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that “suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., the 3rd leading cause of death for people aged 10–24, and the 2nd leading cause of death for people aged 15–24.” When dealing with the trauma of intimate partner violence or sexual assault, a person’s mental health is impacted and a survivor may contemplate suicide. The ABA Commission on Domestic & Sexual Violence cites research saying twenty-nine percent of all women who attempt suicide survived physical assault by their partners. In their white paper, The Psychological Consequences of Sexual Trauma; Yuan, Koss and Stone find that “childhood sexual abuse was associated with an increased risk of a serious suicide even after accounting for the effects of previous psychological problems and a twin’s history of suicidal behaviors (Stratham et al., 1998).” What do these statistics mean for hotlines? It means we get callers who survived violence and are now suffering from suicidal thoughts. It means hotline crisis services responders need to be trained in more than advocacy; we need to be trained in suicide first aid practices.

Several of our hotline staff and an Action Alliance intern had the opportunity to attend Living Works Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) hosted by Richmond Behavior Health Authority.

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Steve Alexander and Kristen Vamenta in ASIST training.

Living Works encompases the core belief that suicide is an issue for the entire community and that as a universal human problem, suicide should not be the domain of any one discipline or viewpoint. Living Works holds the belief that everyone, working together, can help to prevent suicide in the community.

ASIST is for everyone 16 or older—regardless of prior experience—who wants to be able to provide suicide first aid. By the end of the training, we were better able to understand the ways attitudes affect views on suicide interventions and provide individualized guidance and suicide first-aid to a person at risk. These skills translate beyond the workplace, beyond the hotline and into our everyday lives.

As we go about our work with survivors and in our personal lives as community members, I keep coming back to an often shared quote attributed to multiple sources such as Plato, Philo of Alexandria, Ian MacLaren, John Watson:

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

The Hotline Crisis Services Team is comprised of an awesome team of trained staff who work 24/7. The hotline staff is:

Reed Bohn, Erin Cave, Charmaine Francois, Jennifer Gallienne, Mishawn Glover, Jennifer Harrison, Shirnell Lewis, Emily Robinson, Kristin Vamenta, and Carmen Williams

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call804.377.0335.

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org