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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release February 21, 1996
                             BRIEFING BY

                          The Briefing Room

1:05 P.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Many of you this morning had a number of questions about the inauguration of the domestic violence hotline, which the President has just announced. And I'm delighted that Secretary of Health and Human Services, Donna Shalala, could be with us; also, Bonnie Campbell, who is the Director of the Justice Department's Office of Violence Against Women. They're prepared to answer the questions that many of you had this morning about how the hotline actually works. And perhaps we can start with Secretary Shalala actually going through exactly what has happened since the hotline has been inaugurated.

Thank you for being here, both of you.

SECRETARY SHALALA: Thanks very much, Mike. The hotline was inaugurated this morning. We've already had 60 calls. Half of them have been people who have identified themselves as victims; the other half, friends of people who are in trouble and needed referrals and needed to know where they could get services.

At the other end of the line -- and I know Mike has indicated to you that we have a press number for you, as opposed to tying up the hotline with your question -- at the other end of the line is someone called an advocate. In the social service field we use the term "advocate" slightly differently -- it's a trained counselor who is used to talking to someone who needs help. And what you will get is more than just a telephone referral, but some questions about what kind of help you need. You could be referred to a battered women's shelter. If a child called, for example, and simply screamed over the phone, "My daddy is hitting my mommy," they have the capacity there to patch them immediately through to the local police department where they live, so that the police could be immediately contacted.

In general, though, we expect the calls to be people that need referrals for counseling, to a battered women's shelter, to what kinds of services -- other kinds of services that they may need. And this is an all purpose kind of counseling at the other end of the 800 number. We have funded -- the federal government has funded 800 numbers before, in the area of AIDS, for example, breast cancer. This is the first time there has been federal funding of a domestic hotline. There have been some start-ups before, funded by foundations. This is a long-term, bipartisan commitment by the federal government. We actually have five years of authorization for this hotline. We will be studying it at the same time. It is located in Texas, in Austin. They won the contract as part of a competitive bidding process.

Bonnie and I will be happy to answer questions you may have.

Q Wasn't something similar announced about a year ago, or am I mistaken? Or was that one of these privately funded --

SECRETARY SHALALA: It could have been -- there have been local, privately funded hotlines. In fact, there are hotlines around the country in local communities that have been funded. There have been in the area of rape crisis, for instance, for a long time in local communities rape crisis hotlines. Individual states have tried to put these together. We have indicated, and at the press conference the President held, that this will be particularly helpful to rural women, to people where there may not be these kinds of information available, where we may be able to get them to their nearest place for help.

Q How many calls have the people in Texas been getting? And how much do you expect it to jump up to?

SECRETARY SHALALA: They got 60 today. We've had some experience with hotlines. The start-ups -- we have no way of anticipating. The fact that USA Today ran the hotline number this morning started the calls at 5:00 a.m. There will be -- I assume that there will be a large number of calls initially, and then as the word gets around, there will be a regular pattern of calls.

Q How do the counselors know the local reference? Have they got some computer loaded with everything?

SECRETARY SHALALA: Yes. Yes, it's a computerized system. They're sitting at a console, and they actually will ask the individual -- it can be done anonymously, by the way. You do not have to give your name when you call. Your location obviously is helpful if we're going to refer you to your local area for services. They'll ask the individual a series of questions about their situation as sensitively as they can, and the individual will identify where they live so that we can connect them up with local services. And we have the local services on our computer screen, depending on what kind of services they need.

Q For every town in the country?

SECRETARY SHALALA: For every town in the country where there are local services. If there are not, we would give them access to broader services that may be available.

Q Does the hotline system in any way take advantage of existing systems that are already out there run by other groups, or does it somewhat --

SECRETARY SHALALA: Yes, it's absolutely -- we do not substitute -- remember, as part of the Violence Against Women Act, we're putting additional money into battered women's shelters, into referral services, into counseling services. We're training -- with the American Bar Association, the American Medical Association, we're retraining emergency room people and adding services there. We're training lawyers and attorneys general and district attorneys and people that handle -- this is part of a seamless system of services.

Q So like existing phone banks in a certain city, the phones are all being rerouted then, or is it --

SECRETARY SHALALA: No, they're not being rerouted. If there are places where people can get services in the local community, we will have that on our screen where we can refer people. What you obviously don't want to do is do a lot of referrals from one hotline to another, as opposed to the direct services. So we will try to supplement what's available in a community.

Q Are the counselors trained, told to guard against potential misuse of the hotline in terms of neighbors slandering neighbor or mischief makers? Do you see this, first of all, as a problem and if so, how do you fight against it?

SECRETARY SHALALA: Yes. It's interesting -- actually, I am one of the few people in world, I had some of my graduate students at Columbia in the 1970s study hotlines, actually look at the calls. And there is a certain amount of mischief certain hours when teenagers are around -- not a lot. You'd be amazed on hotlines. And usually the people at the other end of the line are pretty experienced.

If you talk to the people that do 911, for example -- a very high percentage of 911 calls are lonely, elderly people who call at night. You get used to the pattern. These are very trained people. They don't make a judgement. They refer people to services. They're not in a situation in which they know or can learn enough about the individual. The best they can do is refer someone directly as sensitively to the kind of services that it sounds would be the most helpful and we know something about the services at the other end of the line.

Q What is your sense of the frequency of spousal abuse in this country over the last, say, five or 10 years? Is it leveling off or is still increasing?

SECRETARY SHALALA: Well, you know, one of the things we're being very careful about in this administration is the place where statistics are collected is the Justice Department and they're responsible for numbers in this area, so I'm going to refer that to Bonnie Campbell.

MS. CAMPBELL: We only use Justice Department numbers, and let me just offer this caveat. This crime of domestic violence and also sexual assault -- rape -- historically, these are crimes that are unreported or dramatically underreported. The data we use are from the National Crime Victimization Survey, which is an ongoing study done by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. I think the experts believe that there is really not a huge increase in the incidence of domestic violence, but rather a more enlightened populace, if you will, who are, because we're having this discussion today, relatively much more inclined to report it.

Now, however, domestic violence in this country, I think because of drugs and alcohol, which often are associated, is very lethal sometimes. And so the connection between domestic violence and our overall crime rates, our homicide rates, are very strong. But we are careful with numbers, believe me.

SECRETARY SHALALA: I'd remind you that Bonnie Campbell is the former attorney general of Iowa.

Q Are the people answering the calls prepared to take up the issue of same-sex domestic --

MS. CAMPBELL: The answer is yes, that violence is violence, and they will do a referral as sensitively as they can -- whether it's a male that calls in, whether the violence is same sex, they will make a referral.

Other questions? If not, thank you very much. Will everybody remember the number, 1-800-799-SAFE. Thanks very much.

END 1:14 P.M. EST