On average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in the U.S., according to The National Domestic Violence Hotline. That’s more than 12 million women and men a year—roughly the entire population of Pennsylvania.
Despite facing great risk, there are many reasons why people stay in abusive relationships, as Molly Boyette, a 2-1-1 operator with United Way of Greater Cleveland, learned.
“I was talking to a young lady one day. She had said she was looking for help with furniture,” Boyette recalls. “I said, ‘Okay, well I can help you with that,’ and I gave her some information.”
2-1-1 is a free and confidential service, supported and often operated by United Ways across the country. It connects people all across the U.S. and Canada to essential health and human services 24/7 through a simple call, text, or web chat.
Boyette’s next question, however, uncovered the perilous situation the caller was in.
“I asked her what's going on and she said to me that over the weekend, her husband was arrested for domestic violence. He had been abusing her for many years,” Boyette says.
The woman told Boyette that while she needed to get out of the relationship, she remained because she was diabetic and dependent on her husband’s health insurance to pay for her insulin.
“Even though I work, I can’t get health insurance through my job,” she told Boyette. After a few more questions, it turned out the woman was eligible for Medicaid and had no idea.
“I gave her information on how to access that, and she started to cry,” Boyette remembers. “She said, ‘You just took away the only reason that I had to stay. And now I know that I can manage on my own.’”
The challenges facing victims of domestic violence are complex and go beyond being in immediate physical danger. Chronic health conditions, underemployment, limited affordable housing and childcare are just some of the obstacles many victims must overcome.
If you or someone you love is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1 or The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). You can also call 2-1-1 or visit 211.org, which can help domestic violence victims find resources and services in their community, such as safe housing, health care, employment assistance and childcare.
As for Boyette, she’s glad a phone call about furniture helped save a woman’s life.
“It moves me to know that I was able to change this woman’s life and get her in a safe place—that she was able to make that change after feeling trapped for so many years.”