Why I work the domestic violence helpline: Men have a responsibility to pick up the pieces
Greg Howard, Opinion contributor, USA Today
The call came at about 2:30 a.m. I put on my robe and pulled out my notebook before answering, knowing that I would need to take down the number of someone in crisis — in what may be the worst day of their life. I answered the call from the answering service, got the pertinent information and then asked the question I’ve asked a couple hundred times over the years, “Is that a safe number?”
About 10 years ago, when a close family friend found herself married to an abusive man and she asked me what she should do, I had no idea how to answer her or how to help her. I decided that day that if the situation were to happen again, I would know what to do.
The next day I contacted The Family Violence Project, based in my home state of Maine, and learned about the training necessary to work their volunteer helpline. I took the course, which was rigorous but not hard, and have been volunteering with FVP ever since.
On call for a national crisis
I am on call three or four nights a month. Some nights there are no calls at all, others it can seem non-stop. In Maine alone, there were 34,053 calls to domestic violence helplines in 2018, according the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence. Forty percent of all assaults in Maine in 2017 were attributable to domestic violence cases, according to Maine’s Department of Public Safety.
Nationally, domestic violence is a major concern. According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 24% of women have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner and 9% have been raped by an intimate partner.
I was nervous when I took my first call. I wanted to make sure I handled it well and was a supportive voice at a difficult time. I was also worried about how a woman calling the helpline would feel about talking with a man. In the years since, I have been surprised to find that only one woman ever said she would prefer to not speak with a man, which is completely fine, and I had my staff back-up make the call.
In fact, many of the callers found it validating to speak with a man to confirm what they already know: Real men don’t abuse their partners. Real men don’t threaten, hit or coerce their partners by weaponizing children, money or possessions to terrorize or manipulate the people they say they love. Domestic violence is not just physical abuse but can consist of many actions that have a singular purpose of controlling another person’s behavior.
Some of the most insidious forms of domestic violence are subtly targeted for an audience of one. The man who kept two bullets in his pocket and when he became upset would rattle them, so they clicked together in a sound that was unnoticed by most but was an unmistakable message to his victim. A true sniper’s bullet.