Once a week, usually on a weekend, Lynn Fasciano takes a seat at her wooden Shaker-style desk and prepares to take calls.
The phone could start ringing one minute into her four-hour shift. Sometimes no one calls at all. It varies shift by shift. Fasciano waits there anyway, just in case someone needs her.
And as Utahns self-isolate at home, Fasciano said, her nights staffing the domestic violence help line are busier. “It’s the same type of call I’ve always gotten,” she said. “There’s just more of them.”
More people trying to find the nearest shelter. More seeking therapy. More asking for help to pay rent.
As employers laid off, furloughed or sent people to work from home, experts worried domestic violence rates would increase. Law enforcement agencies in Utah have seen more cases recently. The Utah Domestic Violence Coalition’s LINK line, where Fasciano volunteers, normally receives about 43,000 calls per year. Executive Director Jenn Oxborrow said if call volumes stay consistent, they’ll have taken 65,000 calls by year’s end.
About 50 people volunteer to answer the LINK line, staffing four-hour shifts around the clock. They connect victims with whatever resources they might need, even if it’s just someone to listen.
It’s not easy volunteer work, but many of the people who do it have either experienced domestic violence themselves or know of others who have, and they sign up to help others going through it.
Hanna Omar lives in Los Angeles now, but she started volunteering for the LINK line when she was living in Salt Lake City in January 2016.
At first, Omar volunteered because she wanted the experience to add to her resume for a clinical psychology doctorate program.
Now, four years later, she said she is happy she stuck with it. Some of the most rewarding calls of her time volunteering happened over the past year, as Omar said she hit her stride in knowing what resources are available and how to bring them up.
But also, “I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with letting people be heard. Sometimes that’s all people want.”
Fasciano started volunteering for LINK line at the same time Omar did. Sometimes the calls she takes are short, like when someone is in a car leaving and needs to know the address of the nearest shelter.
Callers often are reaching out for someone else. They suspect there’s abuse happening and they want to know what to do; how to not make the situation worse.
Fasciano said the calls that stick with her are the ones in which callers have lost their self-esteem from dealing with pressure and harassment day after day, those who feel they’ve lost all control over their lives and feel helpless.
After those conversations, Fasciano replays them in her head. Did she say the right things, give them the tools to change their circumstances?
Other calls that linger: “If somebody describes a situation where someone is truly in danger, because frankly I’m afraid that I’m going to read about them in the newspaper."
Fasciano said thankfully that hasn’t happened yet.
Now that people are at home more, finding themselves with more free time than usual and wanting to be useful, many are asking about how to become LINK line advocates, said its coordinator, Samantha Candland.
Advocates are required to complete 40 hours of training, which teaches them how to interact with people who’ve gone through trauma, the dynamics of domestic violence and ways to support callers.
To be good at the work, Fasciano said, volunteers must be empathetic. You also can’t get personally involved, Omar said. An advocate’s job is to connect people with resources and to listen to them.
“A good advocate can listen to a person and not judge them,” Fasciano said. "If you can convey that to the person who is calling and give them hope, I think that’s a really a good outcome.”
That, you can do, she said. You can’t fix their situation.
Editor’s note • Those who are experiencing intimate partner violence, or know someone who is, are urged to call the Utah Domestic Violence Link Line, 1-800-897-LINK (5465), or the Utah Rape and Sexual Assault Crisis Line, 1-888-421-1100. To report child abuse and neglect, call the Division of Child and Family Services hotline at 1-855-323-DCFS. For emergencies, call 911.