New sexual violence helpline connects Chatham County to emergency resources

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Photo by Charlotte Ririe/Our Chatham

Chatham County launched a 24/7 crisis helpline for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors last month. 

The new helpline is a partnership between the nonprofit Second Bloom of Chatham and Chatham Family Violence Prevention Services. 

Renita Foxx, of Chatham Family Violence Prevention Services, said that the crisis line arose out of an immediate need. 

Before, Family Violence Rape Crisis, another nonprofit organization that began in 1982, operated a similar phone line. But, local government took over after FVRC discontinued its services in October 2018. The helpline went with it.

“You cannot adequately provide services – domestic violence and sexual assault services – if you have no one for victims or survivors to turn to in terms of need,” Foxx said. “So, we came together and we designed the help/crisis line.” 

Cindy Perry, a board member of Second Bloom, said the nonprofit stepped in to provide the trained volunteers and knowledge of resources that had been offered by FVRC.

County staff answer calls from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. At night and on weekends, a volunteer from Second Bloom answers the phone line, Perry said. 

A strength of this new joint-effort between local government and a nonprofit is cooperation between the county and volunteers, which broadens the scope of resources from which the helpline can draw, Perry said. 

“It binds us together in a really collaborative relationship,” Perry said. “So that those county resources can get more quickly onto helping the people that come through our crisis line.”

But sexual and gendered violence – very underreported crimes due to fear, attachment and other issues – is something even the state has struggled to provide as 53 percent of domestic violence staff lost statewide in 2016 were providers of direct services, like helpline responders. 

And as of June, there have been 22 domestic violence homicides in North Carolina this year. 

But, having a resource on a county level brings emergency services right into neighborhoods. 

“We try to meet them wherever they are,” Foxx said. 

Foxx and Perry say the helpline is primarily a listener. Anyone can call the line, and the survivor directs the conversation. Foxx said trainings stress preserving the agency of the caller, meaning resources are never prescriptive, just offered.

Tamsey Hill of Second Bloom said the new crisis line also tries to go beyond duplicating a preexisting service and caters to the unique geography and demographic of Chatham County, which is very diverse racially, ethnically and financially. 

Second Bloom helps train volunteers for 24 hours to answer the helpline and provide referrals to advocates. The helpline services people of every background or identity, and you don’t even have to be in a crisis to call the line, according to the launch announcement

A responder is trained to inform a caller of a spectrum of resources like safe housing, transportation, court navigators, medical care or even just a calm voice.

“Sometimes all [callers] can handle is knowing, or all that can be done is knowing somebody is listening, not judging,” Hill said. 

From 2015 – 2016, about 34 percent of all domestic violence services provided were just for information or referrals in the county. 

Foxx said services are confidential, and there are bilingual responders, too. Perry added that those who might be hesitant to contact law enforcement because of immigration status can enlist a volunteer to support a request for help.

For example, if a caller wants to contact the sheriff’s office, responders can help advise on civil or criminal cases and protection orders if the individual elects to pursue them. 

“We want to make sure it’s a warm hand-off,” Foxx said. “We don’t want to just hand [the survivor] a phone number and say, ‘hey, give this number a call.’”

The Chatham County Sheriff’s Department houses two victim-services coordinators, as well as a three-member domestic violence investigations team to provide specialized guidance in the law enforcement channel. Hill said the sheriff’s department is invited to attend training hosted by Second Bloom.

If a caller feels threatened or in danger, responders are not obligated to call law enforcement. In those situations, volunteers can support callers with safe words or safety plans. 

“It’s an informational hotline as much as anything,” Perry said. 

While members of Chatham County jumped to fill the need left by FVRC, not every request for help is met with the same quick action or calm voice. According to 2016 survey data, in one day, 147 requests for services across the state were unmet because local programs didn’t have the resources or staff. 

Perry said eventually the county will turn services completely over to Second Bloom. But until Second Bloom can apply for grants — not until its third year of operation — support comes from grants the county receives, including some from the Governor’s Crime Commission, Perry said. 

When exactly Second Bloom will be free-standing is still uncertain because it became incorporated two-and-a-half years ago, but it only began providing services recently, Perry said. For example, the thrift shop operated by Second Bloom to benefit sexual assault and domestic violence is only about a year old, she said. 

Now, Perry says, the volunteer team is about 20 members strong. The group comprises former social workers, social services interns from nearby universities and workers from other victim services agencies. 

To get help, survivors can visit the Chatham Family Violence Prevention Services office on 65 E. Chatham St. in Pittsboro to meet with a volunteer to discuss resources or referrals. 

The helpline number is (919) 545-STOP (7867).

Volunteers can offer their time at Second Bloom’s thrift store in downtown Pittsboro, or they can call to inquire about becoming a crisis line responder at (919) 545-0055. New volunteers can attend a training in September. 

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