CRISIS CENTERS AND HOTLINES
Crisis centers and hotlines are a primary way in which advocates around
the world have organized to provide battered women with support and
assistance. Crisis centers and hotlines provide a variety of services
that can include safety planning, lethality assessments, legal advice,
referrals, and counseling. Crisis centers offer these services in person;
women can come to the crisis center to speak with a trained advocate.
Hotlines, in contrast, offer these services over the phone; women can
call a hotline number and speak with an advocate. Hotlines and crisis
centers also often respond to inquiries from friends, family members
or neighbors concerned about a woman in crisis.
While it is critical that advocates, both staff and volunteers,
on issues such as advocacy principles and the dynamics of domestic
violence, they need not be professional therapists or lawyers.
The organizing principle of crisis centers and hotlines is that
women are the best judges of their own situations and support
from peers rather than professional psychologists is an effective
way to help women evaluate risks and identify the best course
Staff and volunteers who work at crisis centers must follow advocacy
guidelines. Confidentiality, as always,
is of primary importance. Advocates can employ creative approaches
to protect women’s confidentiality. A crisis center in Uzebekistan,
for example, created a back entrance, while another established itself
in a building that also housed a sewing school, “so that women
could stop by on a the way to a ‘legitimate’ destination.” From
Violence in Uzbekistan
In addition to confidentiality, it is vital that staff and volunteers
at a crisis center or hotline understand that while they can help a
battered woman find and evaluate the choices and options that are available
to her, only she can make the decision about what course of action
to take. The role of an advocate is to listen, ask appropriate questions,
and offer referrals to and information about resources and other options
that are available.
To do otherwise may, in fact, endanger the woman who is seeking assistance.
For example, an intervention approach under which advocates contact
husbands in order to arrange for joint
counseling may have severe and potentially lethal consequences.
First, contacting a husband alerts him to the fact that his partner
has sought assistance and disclosed the abuse. He may view this
as a challenge to his authority or a first step towards separation
and retaliate with violence. Second, by contacting the husband,
advocates disclose information that was relayed in confidence.
Women may, as a consequence, feel even more isolated and forgo
seeking additional help. Third, because reconciling women with
their husbands does not address the underlying issues of power
and control that are at the core of the violence, the abuse is
likely to continue as before.
Critical to the success of hotlines and crisis centers are community
education or media campaigns to publicize the existence of these services.
Such campaigns serve the dual purpose of informing the public that
these services are available and raising awareness about domestic violence.
Both hotlines and crisis centers may need to assess the accessibility
of the services they provide. Translation services help ensure that
the services offered are available to women in different communities.
Hotlines may want to equip their telephone system to accommodate hearing-impaired
women. In choosing a location for a crisis center, the accessibility
of the center for women with disabilities may be an important criteria.
Because a hotlines rely on the phone system, additional factors should
be considered prior to starting such a service. In many countries,
telephone service is available only in urban areas. While such services
may be useful for women in cities, it is important for advocates to
consider the provision of services to rural women, who may experience
significant isolation because of reduced transportation opportunities
and greater distances from resources.
Documentation is an important part of providing services through crisis
centers and hotlines. Such documentation can be useful both externally
Internally, documentation can help ensure that battered women receive
better service. Whether it is a crisis center or a hotline, women may
call or visit multiple times. A brief record (nature of question or
problem, advice that was given) created by the staff person or volunteer
who initially talked to a woman can be read by other staff and volunteers
so that all are appraised of her situation; as a result, she will not
have to reiterate the details of her situation each time she speaks
to a new person. The information collected can also be used to help
the center ensure that the services it is providing are needed and
to identify additional services or programs that could be effective
in combating domestic violence.
Externally, the information collected about individuals who have contacted
the center (number, needs, obstacles encountered) can be used to document
the prevalence, scope and nature of the problem. This information can,
in turn, be used to support community education campaigns and legislative
reform efforts. In addition, this data can be extremely useful in fundraising,
particularly in creating grant applications for both private and government
financial support, because it can establish the need for the services
provided by the center or for additional services not yet available.
Recording information, however, must be done in a way that protects
the victim’s confidentiality. General statistics collected for
external purposes should be maintained without any personal or identifying
information. To the extent that personal information is important for
internal reasons, this information should be protected from unauthorized