Victims of domestic violence in D.C. searching for help might soon have a new resource: a centralized domestic violence hotline.
Ward 6 Councilman and potential mayoral candidate Tommy Wells held a public hearing Monday on legislation, co-sponsored by 11 other council members, meant to create a 24-hour domestic violence hotline.
There are currently two domestic violence hotlines in the city, but victim advocates say neither is fully meeting the city's needs.
One hotline, My Sister's Place, fields about 2,000 calls annually, offering safety plans, crisis information and referrals to community resources. Another nonpublic number, primarily designed for emergency responders and other professionals working with domestic violence victims, also receives thousands of calls each year from victims looking for help.
Officials hope that a new line, managed by My Sister's Place or another nonprofit group, could mount a publicity campaign and offer a range of services to domestic violence victims. The legislation mandates live assistance to callers around the clock
and calls for public outreach about the line.
Wells' legislation does not directly allocate any additional funds to create the new hotline; instead, it calls on the city to study the cost of the legislation and look for possible funding sources.
Melissa Hook, head of the District's Office of Victim Services, called the legislation an "important addition."
Domestic violence can be a particularly insidious crime: Many victims are reluctant to acknowledge it is happening to them, and even if they do, victims can feel too trapped to escape. So when the time comes, whether it's from facing another impending episode of domestic violence or when a victim simply decides enough is enough, advocates want to be ready.
That's where a hotline comes in. Many cities offer some sort of hotline for domestic violence victims to call in for counseling and guidance.
Karma Cottman, executive director for the DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said during the hearing that the city's response when victims call in to 311 for help can be inconsistent, frequently transferring callers to the wrong agency.
Domestic violence prevention advocates want to ensure that a human answers the hotline within a few rings.
"Every kind of discouraging response is potentially disastrous in these cases," said George Washington University law professor Joan Meier.