Sunday, March 14, 2010

An interview with Katie Ray-Jones, Operations Director for the National Domestic Violence Hotline

The National Domestic Violence Hotline has been a vital part of WYCD’s week on Domestic Violence. Created in 1996, the Hotline is a nonprofit organization and serves as a resource for the general public, law enforcement and government officials. It was only natural then, that we asked a representative at the organization to field some of our questions surrounding domestic violence.

The following is an e-mail interview with Katie Ray-Jones, Operations Director for The National Domestic Violence Hotline.

1. On your website (, you have a link that says 'Is this Abuse?', do you find that people are often in denial or have confusion about what domestic abuse is?

Many victims/survivors who call the National Domestic Violence Hotline are unaware of the many different ways their partner can be abusive. People may identify the physical abuse in the relationship, however, once a victim/survivor is speaking with an Advocate it becomes clear how emotional abuse is integrated into the relationship. Additionally, many survivors tell us that the emotional abuse is often the most hurtful type of abuse and the hardest to heal from. We also provide education around sexual abuse. Many women believe it is not possible for their husband/partner to rape them and that it is their duty to have sex or provide sexual acts whenever their partner asks or forces. Another method of abuse that often goes undisclosed is strangulation and we provide education to our callers about the effects strangulation can have.

2. What do you find is the most misunderstood about domestic violence?

People have a hard time understanding why someone stays in an abusive relationship. When friends or family members call the National Domestic Violence Hotline this is often the main source of their frustration. Domestic Violence is a complex issue and the power and control tactics that an abuser uses often leave the victim/survivor fearful for their own safety and in many cases their children’s safety. Additionally, many victim/survivors have been forced into isolation by their partners and believe they do not have anywhere else to go. Many women describe “being broken” by their abuser and feel they do not have the strength to leave the relationship. In many cases, children are involved and the woman is not only afraid for their safety, but does not know how she will be able to support the family.

3. In terms of statistics, do you find that many cases go unreported?

In 2009, 90% of callers to the National Domestic Violence Hotline indicated they had never called a Hotline before. At the NDVH, we speak with every caller about their options. Some victim/survivors have indicated their partner has threatened further actions if they were to call the police. Below is a link, with specific data related to unreported domestic violence cases.

4. People sometimes reference ‘the face’ of domestic violence – is there such a thing in terms of socio-economic terms? There seems to be this myth that it doesn’t happen in affluent neighborhoods. Where did that come from?

NDVH receives calls from diverse races, religions, sexual orientations, cultures, socioeconomic statuses and backgrounds. People often isolate domestic violence to certain cultural factors whether it be socioeconomic status, education level, particular cultures, etc. This happens for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is easier for people to believe it doesn’t and can’t happen to them, their sister or their neighbor. It is difficult for people to believe a highly educated, wealthy man who doesn’t have financial stress would abuse his wife. We have had caller’s express their views were shaped on how they were raised, things their friends told them, a movie they saw on television or something they read in the paper. However, it is important to note that there are many families who live in poverty who do not have domestic violence. Domestic Violence is about someone’s need to have power and control over another person and that need is present in all walks of life.

5. We’ve heard two statistics that we were curious about. The first was that the Superbowl has the highest rate of domestic violence – is that true? The second is that domestic violence is one of the leading causes of death in pregnant women. Can you speak to both of these things – whether they are true or not?

From a historical perspective, NDVH has not seen call volume increase around the Superbowl. We have not seen any national studies to support that. What we do know is that domestic violence occurs every day and that in 2009, NDVH averaged 22,000 calls a month.

We are aware of statistics that indicate domestic violence is one of the leading causes of deaths in pregnant women. According to the Center for Disease Control, at least 4 to 8 percent of pregnant women—that's over 300,000 per year—report suffering abuse during pregnancy. Additionally, domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to American women between 15 and 44 and is estimated to be responsible for 20 to 25 percent of all hospital emergency room visits by women.

What we know is that pregnancy can be stressful in all homes. In homes where power and control dynamics are present, physical abuse may occur. We have had many callers who indicated the physical abuse started when she was pregnant. We believe there are several reasons for this. One, a lot of attention is being given to the mom and baby. Most likely she is leaving the home to go to doctor appointments. Her abuser may not like this. We hear stories from women who say their husband didn’t want them to go to the doctor or that their partner didn’t want them to talk about the pregnancy. Additionally, pregnancy may be feeling really tired or nauseous and her partner may become angry that she is not doing things around the house that she normally does.

Also, sometimes pregnancy in abusive relationships is an unintended consequence. Their partner may have raped them or refused to use contraception and then became upset that she is pregnant. Additionally, the abuser may have impregnated their partner to ensure their partner will not leave them.

For more information about how to combat Domestic Violence or to talk to someone who can help, please visit The National Domestic VIolence Hotline.

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