New helpline available for domestic abusers

  • AP FILE PHOTO/MATT ROURKE AP FILE PHOTO/MATT ROURKE

Staff Writer
Published: 5/17/2021 5:33:55 PM

A new helpline is providing resources and assistance to people who have committed domestic abuse, or fear they might do so, in order to help change their behavior.

Still, while the purpose of the helpline is to get those who perpetrate abuse to stop, the safety and needs of domestic abuse survivors are still paramount to the effort. Consequently, those on the hotline are trained to speak as if a domestic abuse survivor is also listening.

“Anything you say you want them to be OK with it,” explained Monica Moran, manager of the domestic violence prevention projects at the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission.

Moran, who has been in her position at the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission for 23 years, said that one reason the helpline was created was to tackle domestic violence from another direction.

“We need to look at the source of the problem here,” she said.

The helpline is a collaboration between the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, Growing A New Heart, the Behavioral Health Network and the state Department of Public Health. It can be reached at 877-898-3411 from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. 365 days a year.

The line became active in April, although it has not yet had a formal launch. It’s believed to be the first helpline of its kind in the United States, although there are similar programs in Australia and the United Kingdom. While it was originally intended to be a Western Massachusetts program, it is now intended to serve people statewide.

“It’s been a long-term need,” Moran said. “It’s definitely been made more urgent because of COVID.”

The helpline can provide people with information on groups for domestic abusers, as well as encourage people to see therapists or counselors and set up informal support networks to help hold them accountable.

“In case someone is going to do the work, they have a place to call,” said JAC Patrissi, director of Growing A New Heart.

The helpline is also available for those who work with domestic abusers, such as social workers, who want resources, as well as people who worry that someone they care about may be harming their partner.

Patrissi said programs for domestic abusers have the same success rates as programs for those with serious substance abuse issues. Like recovering from substance abuse, overcoming domestic abuse is a lifelong process.

“Being less harmful can often allow an opening for someone to leave safely,” Patrissi said.

Moran also noted that someone becoming less harmful can allow the person they’ve abused to feel comfortable staying in the same community. While people in the domestic violence field are looking more at changing the harmful behaviors of those who abuse than in the past, she said it’s not incumbent upon survivors to stay with them as their behavior is changing.

“I would never say, ‘Wait, it’s getting better,’” Moran said.

Those who call the helpline can talk to those on the other end for as long as they’d like and as often as they’d like. The purpose of the helpline is to help people shift from abusive values and belief systems to values of equity and respect.

“Change happens very slowly with people who use abuse,” Moran said.

Patrissi said it’s important to combine compassion for people who abuse with accountability. She noted that compassion without accountability is collusion, while accountability without compassion replicates systems of domination.

Moran said the helpline hasn’t received many calls yet, while also noting the newness of the program.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.

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