At the turn of the new year, SafeNest expanded its 24-hour crisis hotline to include text and online chat options.
But in the months since the new services have launched, the Las Vegas-based domestic abuse treatment center has received a combined total of about 215 text messages and online chats from victims.
“I think we’re all really surprised the volume has been pretty low,” CEO Liz Ortenburger said on a recent Thursday, six days before April 17, or 4/17, which is the Las Vegas police code for domestic violence. “But we believe that has more to do with awareness than need.”
The new chat options expand on Project Safe 417, a collaborative program first launched in December 2017 between SafeNest and the Metropolitan Police Department dedicated to reducing domestic violence and homicides in the valley.
When police receive an initial report of domestic violence, Metro alerts SafeNest’s 24-hour hotline and requests crisis advocate support. Officers now have the option to text the hotline as they are arriving at a crime scene, Ortenburger said.
Ortenburger joined SafeNest just over two years ago and immediately recognized immediately the huge communication gap between the nonprofit and its clients.
“We have to be in the places where our victims are,” she said. “And that’s not always going to be a phone call.”
But now that SafeNest has bridged that gap, Ortenburger and hotline manager Jodi Pudwill are urging those who may not have felt safe in the past to send a text or connect with a crisis advocate online for immediate, direct support and help.
“The difference between survival and homicide is often times just knowing that we’re here,” Ortenburger said.
Both the chat and text options are available on a cellphone, and callers can text SafeNest’s existing hotline number at 702-646-4981, or go online to www.safenest.org to access the chat options.
“When we think about age, people 35 and younger are used to this medium of communication,” she said. “If I’m in a highly abusive relationship, it may not ever be convenient for me to call you. Maybe the only time I’m alone during the day is the time I may be using the bathroom. It just gives you a very private way to have a conversation.”
The chat software that SafeNest designed is “savvy enough” that when a victim initiates a chat, whether online or via a text message, the phone number is saved to their system in the event that a victim has to abruptly leave a chat and follow up at a later time, Pudwill said.
And until that victim reaches out again, the conversation will be considered “an open line,” Pudwill said.
Ortenburger also is reassuring the public that crisis advocates take a text or online chat report of abuse just as seriously as they would a phone call report.
“One of the beauties of the work that SafeNest does is that we’re not here to investigate your story and determine for anyone whether or not it’s true,” she said. “We are not here to judge the decisions that you’ve made or the decisions that you’re going to make. We’re here to empower you.”
SafeNest’s impact in Southern Nevada in 2018
— 464 domestic violence victims given emergency shelter services
— 1,775 emergency protection orders processed via the hotline
— 27,279 calls made to the crisis hotline
— 7,609 therapy sessions