Austin is seeing an increase in abuse and violence hotline calls during the pandemic

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A leading Austin nonprofit that supports survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault saw an increase in people reaching out to its hotline for help over the past year.

SAFE Alliance, which offers resources, legal assistance, counseling and a host of other services to help people in the Austin area who have experienced violence and abuse, reported that more calls than ever before are coming into its 24-hour SAFEline hotline.

  • If you or someone you know needs support, the 24/7 SAFEline is available by phone at 512.267.SAFE (7233), by text at 737-888-7233, or by online chat at safeaustin.org/chat

Increasing numbers during the pandemic

YearContacts (call, texts, chats to SAFEline)
201613,207 (text/online chat option not available this year)
201714,537
201817,137
201917,268
Mar. 2020-Feb. 202121,964 (the fiscal year doesn’t end until March 31, so this number could increase).

Between March of 2020 and February of 2021, the SAFEline received 21,964 calls for help. This is by far the greatest number of annual contacts to the SAFEline and a 14% increase over last year’s numbers, SAFE reports. In the entire fiscal year of 2019, SAFEline received 17,268 contacts.

SAFE Co-CEO Kelly White explained that her organization’s fiscal year doesn’t end until March 31, so the annual total of this year could amount to be even higher than the number they have currently.

SAFE reports that 75% of the contacts to the SAFEline this year were domestic violence-related.

Where is the increase coming from?

White told KXAN the increase is likely the result of several factors and SAFE plans to analyze its data further to find out more.

But one factor in particular stood out to White.

“There’s no question that for a number of folks, that it was related to COVID,” she emphasized, explaining that people experiencing domestic violence who might have otherwise gone to a neighbor, or a friend, or an elderly parent’s house to seek refuge, suddenly found those options unavailable.

Of the pandemic, White said, “we, in the very beginning, recognized that this was going to be like a perfect storm for all things associated with violence and abuse in the home.”

She described the stories which came into the helpline over the past year as particularly heart-wrenching.

“It was women calling us that they were eight months pregnant and ‘my husband hit me with the car and tells me if I leave that I will be on the streets,’ they were just awful, awful stories,” White recounted.

Additional factors

She added that Austin’s growing population likely plays a role in the increased calls to the helpline.

“There’s a greater divide between the haves and have nots, and that’s something we’re seeing,” White said. “There’s fewer services that are available — that’s not to say services have gone away — it’s to say that the city has grown so dramatically, so many people here and we have not put in place that safety net to help address that.”

White said SAFE saw a decrease during the pandemic in the demand for their forensic nursing and sexual assault victim advocacy.

“And if you think about it, [during that time] all the bars are closed, everybody’s off the streets, everybody’s inside, we just weren’t seeing the same need for services associated with sexual assaults,” she explained.

As things open back up and more people are vaccinated, White expects to see sexual assault reports increase again. However, she does not expect SAFE will see a decrease in the number of hotline calls because she believes the need for support services in the Austin area continues to grow.

If you are experiencing violence, abuse, or trafficking, SAFE encourages you to contact their SAFEline. But the line is also for people who know someone experiencing those things and want to learn how to help out.

What can you do to help support survivors of violence and abuse in the Austin area?

White advises: “stay in touch with your neighbors, stay in touch with your family, stay in touch with your friends and if you have concerns, that’s particularly the time to stay in touch.”

“And if you’re worried you should call us too,” she added.

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