WESTERN MASS – Ten to Ten, a free, confidential helpline for people who abuse or may abuse their intimate partner, launched on April 15. The Helpline is the first of its kind in the United States, although similar programs exist in Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.
The Helpline will serve Western Massachusetts and will operate from 10 a.m.-10 p.m., 365 days a year. The toll-free number is 877-898-3411.
“The Helpline is the first one to focus on the abuser,” said Monica Moran, manager of Domestic Violence Prevention Programs for the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission.
Moran said the national Domestic Violence Hotline will take calls from abusers, but that is not their primary focus. The specific mission of the Ten to Ten Helpline is to work with people who use abuse and also for families and professionals who are involved or concerned. “Up ’til now we’ve worked solely with victims and survivors. It’s time to look to the source of the abuse, the abusive person. If you are one of the people who wants to work to be safe, we’ll work with you,” Moran said.
Moran said in the field of domestic violence, there are court-ordered groups for people who abuse that started in the 80’s, so there is a field of expertise around these issues. But for people who feel like they want to be abusive and want to change, there’s nothing else out there.
“This is an attempt, if there are people who want to be safe, (to) create the service and try to work with them. We can add the perspective of people who are always safe in their relationships,” she said.
The Ten to Ten Helpline is part of a national movement towards restorative justice that seeks to create more options for people besides the criminal justice system. But, Moran, who wrote the $346,000 grant for the startup, said the specific reason this hotline started was because of the pandemic. “Domestic violence rates were going up, and there were so few options to leave. People didn’t want to call the police and get a restraining order,” she said.
“Made us turn our heads to the people who were abusive,” Moran said, adding they realized they had to look at the problem more holistically. “I don’t think we can just continue to say people who are abusive don’t change, so all we can do is work with victims and survivors.”
The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission secured the Federal CARES Act of 2020 funding for the Helpline in partnership with 25 towns in the region, with Ware as the lead town. CARES Act funding is intended to address the impact of COVID-19, and studies across the country and the world show an increase in intimate partner violence since the pandemic started. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health is providing supplemental funding so that the Helpline can serve all of Western Massachusetts.
Partners in the helpline include the Proteus Intimate Partner Abuse Education Program of the Behavioral Health Network, who will provide much of the training, the Gandara Center in Springfield, and the Berkshire Correctional Institute. An Advisory Board of regional partners as well as two rural domestic violence task forces from the Ware River Valley and the Southern Hilltowns will oversee and guide the project.
“Rather than harming your partner, call us for help,” Moran said. She said there are five trained staff members, and two trained volunteers who will answer the calls, which are confidential and not recorded.
Moran said the Ten to Ten Helpline is for people who are abusive and want to change, because it’s not working for them anymore. “Almost as much, we’re hoping that family and friends will call. People who are abusive grossly overestimate how much the people around them agree with what they’re doing,” she said, adding, “We want to coach people around them how to let them know you don’t agree with it.”
“People who abuse their partners are our neighbors, the people we group up with, our family and sometimes our friends. That is the hard truth,” Moran said. “This doesn’t mean they are not accountable for the harm they cause. But it does mean that if they want to learn how to be safe in their relationships, if they want to learn how to hold themselves accountable, we need to be ready to work with them. We need to build resources and services that can help them learn from people who are always safe in their relationships.”
She said their first concern is safety, and she is hoping that substance abuse counselors and mental health professionals who are not trained in this specifically will also call the Ten to Ten Helpline at 877-898-3411.