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Domestic Abuse Agency Starts Texting Hotline In St. Louis Area To Help Victims

Safe Connections opened one of the first texting hotlines in early March for people experiencing domestic abuse.
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Safe Connections opened one of the first texting hotlines in early March for people experiencing domestic abuse.

St. Louisans experiencing domestic abuse can now text a local hotline for help.

The new text line is part of a push by the nonprofit Safe Connections to make services more accessible to victims of abuse during the coronavirus pandemic.

When the pandemic first hit, calls to Safe Connections’ crisis hotline decreased 23% — but not because domestic abuse stopped, said Jaszmine Parks, who manages the hotline. The drop was most likely because people were ordered to stay home and had less time apart from their abusers, Parks said.

Safe Connections collected community donations and used federal coronavirus relief money to launch the text line on March 1. It’s one of the first in the St. Louis area.

People can call the hotline 24/7 at 314-531-2003 and receive texts back from staff weekdays from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. The hotline accepts calls and texts from all ages and genders and from people reaching out on behalf of others.

Crisis experts connect people to medical care, legal aid and counseling.

A safer option

Texting can be a safer option for people who are still mostly confined to their homes, Parks said.

“Now we can get in contact with those folks who are maybe just no longer able to walk away, go to work, step outside and make a phone call,” said Parks, Safe Connections’ crisis and community education manager.

Texts are also an advantage for people who are not fluent in English or who are deaf.

“It can be really nice for somebody to just send a feeler out,” Parks said. “They don't have to commit to a conversation.”

Call volumes on crisis hotlines are nearly back to pre-pandemic averages now, but the initial drop made it clear that text lines are a necessity in the 21st century, said Vithya Murugan, who teaches social work at St. Louis University.

Murugan studies the pandemic’s impact on domestic violence. She’s found agencies’ biggest need during the pandemic is to make services more accessible.

“[If] your abusive partner is right there in the same room or an adjacent room or you're out and about, it's nice to be able to have that source of support in real time,” she said.

Domestic violence increased in 2020 as rates of food insecurity and job loss rose, said Matt Huffman, public affairs director for the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

Many providers switched to virtual care and closed offices during the pandemic. Safe Connections’ office is still closed. Huffman said the closures intensified the need for texting hotlines and private messages on social media. He said more people reaching out for help now are comfortable with texting, but text lines are still rare in Missouri.

“Whenever we have more chat and text line options available, it really does make services much more inclusive and accessible,” he said.

Follow Kayla on Twitter: @_kayladrake

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