KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved a set of rules Wednesday aimed at improving access domestic violence survivors have to safe and affordable connectivity via cell phones.
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These rules are based on provisions outlines in the Safe Connections Act of 2022, which outlines three main solutions:
- Requiring mobile providers to separate phone lines linked to family plans where the abuser is on the account;
- Protecting the privacy of survivors by requiring them to omit records of calls and text messages to domestic violence hotlines from consumer-facing call and text message logs;
- Providing support for survivors who suffer from financial hardship through the FCC’s Lifeline program
The approval of these rules is something that the staff at Newhouse, Kansas City’s first domestic violence shelter, was glad to hear.
“We’re super pleased to hear that this new legislation has passed and that there’s a proactive approach being taken to support survivors,” said Courtney Thomas, president and CEO at Newhouse.
Thomas says the idea of control is something abusers often wield to make survivors feel like they have no other choice but to be dependent on them.
“Abusers often times, in an effort to maintain control in a variety of capacities against their victims, leverage their cell phone,” she said.
Thomas says these rules passing are crucial in validating the idea that not all abuse is physical.
“There are many bruises that are unseen, so financial abuse, keeping someone away from or limiting their access to the financial resources that they need to survive or thrive,” she said.
That was Kimberly’s experience. She’s a domestic violence survivor KSHB 41’s Caitlin Knute spoke with in October. In her case, her abuser started out showering her with gifts.
He then encouraged her to quit her job and go back to school, making her financially dependent on him.
“It's very hard to leave a situation like that one, unfortunately,” Kimberly said. “In life in general, you're reliant upon finances to do anything, whether it be, you know, providing your house, gas, a vehicle, food.”
And financial dependence is something that translates to cell phones too.
“That is a major issue that we run into a lot,” said Isabel Sierra, who works in the Advocate Office at Newhouse.
In addition to answering phones for the 24/7 hotline, she also helps with other tasks at the shelter.
“Often times, they don’t have a phone at all, and they may need to borrow it, whether it’s from the abuser or anybody else in the household," Sierra said.
Sierra said she’s seen survivors have to get creative with the way the reach out because of how controlling an abuser can be.
“They’ll put our shelter name under a friend’s name or, I had a survivor tell me that they had us under ‘pizza’ or ‘Chinese food’ or something like that,” she said.
She says all the staff know to answer the phones with a calm tone and be mindful that whoever is on the other end of the line might not be the survivor.
“All of our advocates answer the phone with ‘how may I help you?’ or something a little more vague than identifying ourselves immediately as a shelter,” she said. “I’ve definitely answered the phone with survivors hiding in closets, bathrooms, maybe a child’s room.”
Newhouse receives anywhere from 40-50 calls a day. Sierra believes these rules could directly impact the individuals she speaks with on a daily basis.
“Having phones be accessible to survivors means that we can help them a lot faster,” she said.
That sense of urgency is something Thomas says is crucial and why these new rules are worth celebrating.
“Domestic violence never takes a break,” Thomas said. “We don’t have time to wait. A survivor doesn’t have time to wait. We are here any hour of the day that you need a supportive voice on the other end of the line.”
If you or someone you know needs help, you can call the Newhouse hotline at 816-471-5800. See our previous coverage for additional community resources.
You can also call the national hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
In an emergency, call 911.