To deal with the growing incidence of domestic violence during the three-month-long Covid-19 pandemic, the Met Council on Jewish Poverty has introduced a new texting service designed to let victims of violence safely report attacks.
Met Council announced on Tuesday that its new Secure Text initiative will allow people subject to any form of abuse — sexual, physical, spiritual, financial, verbal or any other form of domestic abuse or sex trafficking — to contact Met Council caseworkers, trained social workers who will answer the calls.
David Greenfield, the agency’s executive director, said Met Council, which in a usual year handles 700 to 800 family violence cases, has dealt with more than 1,000 so far this year. While the agency assists people from any religious or ethnic background, most of domestic abuses complaints Met Council has received are from the Jewish community, Greenfield said in an interview with The Jewish Week.
With the new app, a text sent from a cell phone or smartphone will automatically disappear, making it impossible for an abuser to trace it.
The texting number, (917) 540-0225, went into operation this week, and will be available 8 a.m.-midnight, the same hours as Met Council’s extant domestic violence call-in helpline ( 453-9592).
The new platform was developed and tested as a response to an increase in domestic abuse reports that Met Council has received since March, said Greenfield. “It offers safe and reliable access to all our resources.”
The stress caused by people being unemployed and often at home with someone who had already been guilty of abuse “aggravated the situation” and made abuse more likely, Greenfield said.
Previously, calls from abuse victims had been made from work places, during normal working hours; since the start of the pandemic, the victims had to make the calls surreptitiously from home, he said, sometimes “whispering” from a bathroom.
The Secure Text will make it possible for victims to without fear contact Met Council, which Greenfield called the largest provider of family violence services in the country. “People who were previously afraid to call us will start reaching out to us.”
All calls are confidential, and Met Council does not charge for its services, which include legal, financial and counseling advice.
Met Council’s Family Violence Services program “has recognized that during this pandemic and subsequent stay-at-home orders have made a bad situation worse; leaving survivors with critically fewer routes to safety,” the agency said in a statement. “With the Covid-19 pandemic and high unemployment, more and more clients are at home with their abusive partner for longer periods of time. For these survivors, talking on the phone could potentially put them at increased risk of harm.
“Through the Family Justice Centers run by the Mayor’s Office to End Domestic Violence and Gender-Based Violence, Met Council receives referrals involving clients of all backgrounds, races, genders, and sexual orientations,” Met Council stated. “However, as the sole Jewish social services organization working at the city’s Family Justice Centers, most clients from the community have expressed deep relief in knowing that there is someone who understands their culture and who can help them obtain safety.”
“We want the community to know that we’re here for them and we have experts who can help them day or night to help secure their safety.” said Nechama Bakst, the senior director of Met Council’s Family Violence Services program. “We want every person who is experiencing any form of violence to know that you are not alone, you deserve safety and security, and we have the expertise to help you and keep you safe.”
The Secure Text platform is available initially in English, but Met Council plans to add Hebrew and Russian capabilities in the coming months, Greenfield said. “People should know they are not alone.”
Met Council’s family violence helpline can also be reached at FAMILY@MetCouncil.org.