Christmas campaign: ‘Our helpline team is ready to take calls from victims of domestic abuse’
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It’s a phone call which can save a life.
The Herts Domestic Abuse Helpline is a confidential, free, support and signposting service which aims is to improve the lives of anyone affected by domestic abuse, including those seeking help to change their behaviour.
Their well-trained, non-judgmental call takers provide information appropriate to each individual’s needs to enable them to make their own decisions about what they would like to do following abuse.
In the run-up to Christmas, traditionally one of the worse times for incidents of abuse, we have been running an awareness campaign highlighting the work of the helpline in tackling this issue.
Nikki Vasco has been a call-taker for the Herts Domestic Abuse Helpline for just over a year, and shared her experiences as a volunteer.
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“I was drawn to volunteer for two reasons: Firstly, I have been a victim of domestic abuse myself, so I know how important the service is. Secondly the helpline offers really flexible volunteering – you can do it from home, at a time that suits you.
“I was nervous about becoming a call-taker as it seemed like a big responsibility. But all new volunteers are given a day and a half of training and I was made to feel really comfortable.
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“Volunteers come from a wide range of backgrounds and we are encouraged to use our own experiences and learn from each other. By the time I finished my training I felt confident that I’d be able to answer calls – we had lots of practice. I also had my manual which contains all the information you are likely to need. It’s got details of all the services to signpost people to, local maps and numbers of supervisors to call if you need support. As long as you’ve got your manual in front of you, you can’t go far wrong.”
She explained how there was no typical call to the service: “We get calls from male and female survivors and even some perpetrators who want help to change their behaviour. We support people at all stages of the journey. Some people are just starting to recognise that they are in an abusive relationship; others have already been able to leave the relationship but they need support rebuilding their lives. Sometimes people ask for very specific information – they know exactly what kind of service they want. Other times people don’t know what they need exactly – they just know they need help.”
But there are still some calls which have stuck in her mind: “Once I had a call from a man who just wanted to talk about something that happened to him a long time ago – he didn’t want any information, he just wanted someone to listen. I also remember a man who described the way his partner was behaving towards him and wanted help to work out if he was being abused.
“Recently I had a call from a lady who had been able to leave her abusive partner, with help from the helpline. She was calling to say thank you – and to ask for help with the next steps, gaining financial independence and getting counselling.
“It can be challenging taking calls and I’ve been told some upsetting stories of abuse. But I know that calling the helpline is an important first step towards getting support and staying safe.”
Call-takers’ training teaches them to empower callers by talking through the options available to them: “I remember one call from a lady who was in a dangerous situation. I suggested she should contact the police but she really didn’t want them involved – she thought they would make things worse. I explained to her that the police have specially trained officers who know how to keep her safe, but I said I respected her decision.
“I then told her about a few other services she could contact who would be able to support her in different ways. Just as we were ending the call she changed her mind and asked me to give her the number for the police.
“I believe that if I’d tried to pressure her into taking the number from the police straight away, she would have been very intimidated. She would probably have put the phone down on me and felt even more isolated.
“But because I respected her initial decision and we were able to talk things through, she had the space to work out what she needed. This shows how the helpline’s empowerment ethos really works.
“For me, it’s really important just to be there on the end of the line. I know how much strength it takes for a victim of domestic abuse to ask for help for the first time.
“I’ve had calls from people who have been enduring abuse for more than 10 years, and I am the first person they have told about what’s happening to them. That’s a huge responsibility but it’s also a privilege, and I know I’m making a difference to their lives by helping them take the first steps towards safety and independence.”
If you are in an abusive relationship call the Herts Domestic Abuse Helpline number on 08 088 088 088 to talk in confidence. If you are interested in volunteering as a call taker for two to three hours a week email firstname.lastname@example.org You can take calls from home at a time that suits you and that works around your commitments. Visit www.hertsdomesticabusehelpline.org for more information.