May 232013

Authored By: Robin

On May 19, a remarkable thing happened: members of the Leather/BDSM/Kink community: Beth, Dennis, and I, met with senior managers of the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the National Dating Abuse Helpline — and we were welcomed with open arms! A partnership was formed with potentially national impact. Given the historic lack of communication and trust between the social services community and ours, it’s hard to overestimate the significance of this accomplishment!

Some background: we learned that the National Domestic Violence Hotline (a federally chartered project), the National Dating Abuse Helpline, and the Texas Domestic Violence Hotline are all co-located in Austin. The DV Hotline has been operating for 17 years. The DV hotline alone handles over 211,000 calls per year, resulting in 136,000 referrals. They operate 24/7/365, but another 50,000 calls can’t be handled due to inadequate resources. All calls are anonymous. They have a three-fold mission: triage, assuring safety, and referral to local services in their nationwide data base, by direct connection or by referral to other resources. 96% of their cases are emotional/verbal abuse, 72% include physical abuse, and 7% include sexual abuse.

The reason for their interest: they have noted an upsurge in calls with BDSM-related content in the past two years. They can’t speculate on whether this represents a national trend, or whether people (especially younger callers) are simply more willing to talk about it. Either way, they feel the need to train their staff so that these calls are handled effectively.

After meeting the Hotline senior managers, we were given a tour of the facility; were able to watch Hotline operators taking actual calls; and were able to ask them questions about their work, the callers, and procedural questions.  After that we (Beth, Dennis and I) spent the majority of our three hour meeting understanding their needs. These include:
— general familiarity with the terminology and concepts of our lifestyle, so staff can understand what callers mean
— questions to ask, that will allow their staff to tell the difference between consensual play and non-consensual abuse
— a national data base for referrals to lifestyle-friendly local shelters and other resources, as well as online resources (remember that they get everyone, including many people whose only knowledge of our lifestyle comes from reading popular fiction, such as “50 Shades of Grey.”)
— If no lifestyle-friendly local service is available, coaching on how to use local services effectively: what to say to whom, etc.

Our next step will be a meeting next month in Dallas with their management team, to collaborate and plan training for all supervisors. We will work with them to develop the training for delivery this fall, face-to-face in Austin. Out of this will come further collaboration to plan and train all call center staff. The first training will be done face-to-face in Austin, in spring 2014. Then both training systems will be “packaged” for use on demand. At that point, they will also begin distribution of information (and possibly training) to their national network of call centers and service providers. In the long run, the biggest challenge may well be to assemble and maintain the data base of information and service referrals that they need. There will be PLENTY for everyone interested to do!

Meanwhile, the Hotline is interested in the groundbreaking survey of our community, now being designed by Beth. They even offered to explore the feasibility of offering their callers an invitation to participate in the research!

We could not be more excited by the enthusiastic reception we received! It is practically unprecedented for our community to “have a seat at the table” in the social services community on a national level. Thanks to Dennis for approaching them in a professional manner, and for persisting to make this meeting happen! We’re under way!