I will never forget the first time I answered a phone call on behalf of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. I was covering the lines so that our staff could enjoy our annual holiday party. The call was from a microbiologist who was in an abusive relationship. She kept saying, "How did I get here? I am a smart woman. How could I be so stupid?" I remember wishing I could erase the blame, pain and shame she was feeling. I also remember thinking, "What can I say to give her hope? What can I say to help her see that she deserves better?"
Our trained advocates -- those who dedicate their time to answering the calls, chats and texts we receive from people across the country -- respond to hundreds of individuals in need each day. From a concerned parent or sister calling on behalf of a loved one, to a teenager asking whether it's normal for his partner to monitor his phone constantly, each situation is different from the next.
In June, The Hotline answered its four millionth contact, which is one of four million conversations that our advocates have had with victims and survivors of domestic violence in need over the last 20 years. From my perspective, that number represents a large population of people hurting, and it reinforces that there is still work to be done. On the other hand, that number also represents the courage of so many people seeking help and resources.
To commemorate this milestone, we created the audio piece embedded below. You'll hear examples of stories our advocates hear on a daily basis, representing the difficult realities of millions of people in our communities, and the hope we provide when they courageously choose to reach out.
Since answering our first call in 1996, The Hotline has worked diligently to become the go-to resource for anyone affected by domestic violence to find help and understanding. With the evolution of technology, we have become more than just a hotline. In 2011, loveisrespect, our project for youth and young adults, launched the nation's first 24-hour text-for-help service with the support of Mary Kay Inc. In 2013, The Hotline partnered with Verizon to create a live chat service, giving people another safe, private way to connect with an advocate. Through these additional services, we have been able to reach thousands of people, serving 326,422 in 2015 alone.
Domestic violence is a crime that does not discriminate. It does not see gender, race, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity or income level. It occurs in every community and can take a variety of forms, and the wounds are not always visible.
But there is hope.
Whether it's a safety plan, the number to a local shelter or the first time a survivor hears "I believe you," The Hotline is here to help shift power back to those affected by relationship abuse -- four million times and counting.
If you or someone you know is being abused, please reach out to The Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or by visiting thehotline.org.
Special thanks to Group Therapy Studios in Austin, TX for their generosity.
This post was originally published on Medium.