Katie Ray-Jones is the CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline where she provides leadership for the only hotline in the nation for survivors or victims of abuse, connecting them to shelters, domestic violence programs across U.S, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S Virgin Islands. Currently Katie is a member of the national task force to end domestic and sexual violence. In this episode, discuss what it is like for someone to call the hotline, the impact the pandemic had on survivors, and how online/in person abuse are connected.
In this episode Katie discusses:
You're listening to Reckoning, the go-to resource for conversations about gender-based safety, survival, and resilience in the digital age. Reckoning is brought to you by Garbo. Garbo is on a mission to help proactively prevent harm in the digital age, through technology, tools, and education. I'm Kathryn Kosmides the founder and CEO of Garbo and your host for each episode. In the interest of safety, I want to provide a content warning for listeners as we do discuss some hard subjects in each episode. So please use your own discretion when listening, you can learn more about Garbo and our guests by visiting our website at https://www.garbo.io Thank you so much for being here and listening to this episode.
Katie Ray-Jones is the chief executive officer of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, where she provides the strategic vision and leadership for the only hotline in the nation that links victims and survivors to more than 4,500 shelters and domestic violence programs across the United States, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. For more than a decade, Katie has established herself as a leader in the domestic violence movement, and hasextensive experience working with victims and survivors. Prior to being named CEO of The Hotline, Katie served as president of the organization for three years. She was also the operations director where she transformed operations within The Hotline and National Dating Abuse Helpline, which is now known as loveisrespect. In addition, Katie has managed an emergency shelter, transitional and permanent housing programs, nonresidential services for survivors and their children, services for individuals with HIV/AIDS, and a therapeutic preschool for children who have witnessed violence. She also worked at a legal clinic that provided assistance to domestic violence victims seeking restraining orders, provided individual therapy and facilitated groups for survivors and abusers, and worked for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission administering funding to family violence providers throughout the state. Currently, Katie is a member of the National Task Force to End Domestic and Sexual Violence. She is well known on Capitol Hill for her work in domestic violence prevention, and was chosen by Congress to deliver testimony to the Labor-Health and Human Services Appropriation Committee. She also serves as the treasurer on the board of directors for the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, and is married and has three wonderful children: George, Maximillian, and Cooper. In this episode, we discuss what it's really like calling a hotline, the impact of the pandemic on survivors, and how online and in-person abuse are deeply connected.
KATHRYN: We only connected a few short months ago and we were able to establish our partnership with you all to offer the live chat right inside of Garbo, and are obviously, so passionate about the work that you're doing. And that's what I wanted to start this conversation off [with] really today, is talking a little bit about the work that you've done in this space. I know that you've been with the National Domestic Violence Hotline for over 10 years now, and that's an incredible journey. So what has it been like, what are some of the major hurdles that you've had to overcome throughout this journey? I know it's not the easiest working in non-profits and working in gender-based violence and things like that. So we'd love to just kind of hear about your journey.
KATIE: Yeah, it's really been incredible. I think I've been really fortunate and privileged to have my career intersect with a lot of amazing female leaders over the years, who've really built my toolbox to be able to sustain the work of doing gender-based violence work. I've been in the work of domestic violence for over 20 years and I think it found me. I didn't go searching. I never thought like, "Oh, I'm going to do anti-violence work." It was really through my educational programs that I continued to be placed in organizations and agencies that were providing critical services to survivors. So I've done everything from restraining orders to domestic violence intervention programs, providing services to people who choose to cause harm, to shelter non-residential services. It's really had a broad spectrum of my work, and at the local state, and now for the last 13 years at the national level. Now I think, Kathryn, it's been interesting, [and] as you said, non-profit work gender-based violence work can be really hard. I think when I try to infuse a lot of humor into my space, and find joy and ensure that we're always celebrating successes. I mean, you know this as a survivor yourself, it feels like there's a lot of hurdles in this space and when you're trying to help a survivor break free, I always say, "I wish I had a magic wand and can just get that person what they need and what they want at that moment in time." But it's often a difficult journey. So really staying grounded in successes trying to continue to innovate. I think I was looking forward to this conversation today too because I think we're going to talk about all the complexities that exist with the issue of domestic violence and gender-based violence and how do we stay at the forefront. How do we challenge ourselves to stay a couple of steps ahead of the person choosing to cause harm, which is very difficult in today's age, and the use of technology?
KATHRYN: Yeah, just an incredible journey that you've been on and knowing this work so deeply. Having worked in so many different intersections, with victims and survivors, with people who are perpetuating harm, so what kind of insider perspective do you have on the problem of domestic violence, and are there any kind of unique insights you've seen, especially over the last five, ten years as we are getting into this very online, digital age and how is it transforming? How have you seen it change? What are you really seeing from the inside?
KATIE: I think when I started working in this space, it was really focused on the physical abuse that happens in relationships and that was kind of how people label domestic violence. So there's physical abuse, and so then that's domestic violence. I think over the years, we've really seen that conversation change and we identify more and more ways that someone who's causing harm can intimidate, coerce, manipulate, [and] create fear in their partner's life. I think these days we talk really a lot about emotional abuse, financial abuse, digital abuse, and all the ways that someone can make someone feel unsafe [and] belittle them in ways that cause harm for many years to come, even beyond when bruises and cuts may heal, that there really is a journey to healing. I think really for the last three, four, five years really thinking through trauma-informed services and what that looks like, and there's not really a cookie cutter approach to breaking free from a relationship where there's abuse. One can take a lot of different ways and strategies that feel right to them and really empowering survivors to make those choices versus an advocate coming in and saying, "You need to leave the relationship, go to shelter, get a restraining order." It can be very fluid, and really taking time to engage the survivor and what's best for them, and if they have children, what's best for their children as they begin that journey.
KATHRYN: And I think you touched on something so important there in this work. Safety is very personal, just like survival is very personal. To many cookie-cutter solutions: mandatory reporting and Title IX Scituate, and all of these things, it's not trauma-informed. And every person's journey is unique. I think we've seen that with the hotline’s approach to really spending that time. I’ve called the hotline years ago when I was going through my own experience and really had someone listen to me and not like try to force a solution on me, but really say, "What do you want?" That shift is the biggest thing I've seen in the trauma-informed [space] resourcing, etc., is like, "What do you want?" and "What are you looking for?" instead of us telling you what you should do.
KATIE: Yeah. I think it's so interesting even how the hotline has evolved. We're commemorating our 25th anniversary this year and we have some staff who were there [from] the very beginning, and they talk about when the hotline was created and [when] they took the first call, it was more of an information and referral. It was, "Where do you live? Let me connect you to that local program." What they heard over time from survivors was that this was often the first place they were reaching out to even talk about what was happening and having a lot of confusion and feeling a lot of blame about their own experiences. And so the hotline really evolved to create a crisis intervention model that was more really just deeply rooted in survivor experiences and assessing. We don't engage in a telemarketing place, like, "Tell me all your demographics.", it's not a questionnaire. It's really a space for us to say what's going on and remain non-judgmental, [and] really do some education about how power and control are showing up in the relationship, providing some verbiage about that experience, and then talking through the options that really are available to that person and the risks and benefits of each of those options because what feels safe to one survivor may not feel safe to another. We really just want to build that toolbox so that survivors can make informed decisions about their next moves.
KATHRYN: You said so many powerful things there, like giving them verbiage, right? Like you said, so many times we talk to survivors or we have these quizzes on our website of "Was I sexually assaulted?" quiz, "Is this emotional abuse?" quiz. People don't label their own experiences as these things. And like you said, this is often the first time that they're reaching out and labeling it as domestic violence. "I'm going to call it the domestic violence hotline." That means that "I'm realizing that I have experienced domestic violence." But, I think one of the hardest parts about making that step to call a hotline is not knowing what that process really looks like. What information are you collecting? Do I have to tell you everything? Are you going to call the cops on me because of something happening? And forced reporting. So, if you can dive a little bit into what happens when someone calls the hotline. You touched on a little bit of it of wanting to, listen to them, and provide resources, but what are some of the questions you think people have as it relates to utilizing resources and calling a hotline?
KATIE: We work to be as confidential as possible. We don't ask [for] names or any identifying information, and we collect aggregate data that we really use to lift up the needs of survivors for policy and change-makers across the country. We're going to sit there and listen, just really inquire about what's going on. Ask a lot of open-ended questions to really assess lethality safety. In those moments, [we] really create space for the survivor to talk openly and a non-judgmental safe space about their experience. Our goal really is to build that resource network for the survivor and it's okay if someone doesn't want to make a decision today. If they're calling to get information, we're here with you, you can call us as many times as you need during your journey, until you're ready to take a step. We recognize to pick up the phone or to enter into an online chat or text with our organization, it takes a tremendous amount of courage. It's a vulnerable space. We want to meet the survivor in that space, and then work to connect them to, is that a local program in their community? Is that a legal advocate? Is it a food pantry? Or somewhere where they can go to get clothes. It could vary in terms of what the survivors [is] really looking for because we don't utilize color ID. We don't collect identifying information. We're not in a space where we're reporting. Now, there are times [when] someone may call us and they might be concerned for kids in a home and they're not sure how to make a mandated report. They may say, "Can you do this for me?" And we can, so we can be your resource to do that. But unless someone volunteers that information to us, we're not able to make a report. So I think one thing that is important to demystify about the National Domestic Violence Hotline is that we don't collect any identifying information. We're not in a position to make a report, call the police, or, make a child abuse report. While we are mandated reporters, unless someone says, "This is my name, my address, my phone number, will you make a report for me?" We don't have the necessary information to do that. Now there are pros and cons to that. There have been situations where survivors have called us in the midst of violence because that's the resource they wanted to call. We are not in a place where we can even call the police and say, "This is where the person is. Please go." That can be really frustrating for, I think the survivor and certainly for the advocate on the line as well, to be in that position to not help. So we always encourage people, if you are an eminent danger call 911 because we won't have the ability to make that connection for folks.
KATHRYN: You touched on the introduction of digital chat, being able to chat online and text messaging. I know you recently had the hotline now available on Google. So when someone Googles certain search terms around domestic violence hotlines or topics, the hotline pops up right there with the number and the ability to chat. So, what have you seen in terms of that usage and breakdown? Do you know any big demographic data, is it like Gen Z using the chat line more? Do you see certain types of people reaching out or certain types of problems reaching out on different resources or different channels?
KATIE: We also operate a program called loveisrespect, which was created in 2007 to specifically provide healthy relationship education and information to teens and young adults. When that program launched, we immediately launched online chat services, recognizing the space that a younger generation was certainly using digital platforms more so than an older population. But, what we saw over time was that an older population was actually using loveisrespect because of the feature to engage digitally. So over time, we have launched not only online chat services for the hotline, but we've also launched texting services on both loveisrespect and The National Domestic Violence Hotline because we think it's incredibly important that survivors have options and we're able to increase access for survivors to engage with services. What we've really seen over time, as we look at data, [for example] age, because we're not asking people to disclose certain pieces for those individuals who disclose age, what we're seeing is a population of 45 and under seem to gravitate more towards either a chat or a text platform. And then folks over the age of 45 are still moving towards phones. In totality, I think this just makes sense in terms of the journey of the hotline and the platforms we've been using, we're still seeing about 58% of our users engaged with phone services and there still seems to be a greater drive towards the chat versus texting, but the texting is the newer service. I think over time we will see those ratios flip and online chat and texting services will be the preferred method. As we all know, we don't even order fast food and pizza anymore over phone or in person. We do everything usually through apps and digital services. So I think that really people are beginning to travel. I think particularly around the issue of gender-based violence, it's often more private for an individual to be able to chat or text. They don't risk someone hearing their conversation. I think given the really emotionally charged nature and vulnerability that survivors are in, in that moment, there's an added layer of privacy. When you can't hear my voice, maybe my voice is shaking or I'm crying, there's a digital wall there that maybe provides a little bit more emotional safety for the survivor.
KATHRYN: I never thought about it like that. I mean, it's more accessible for a lot of reasons. One of those reasons being that privacy lens, and like you said, whether that's privacy to the advocate I'm talking to and wanting to remain anonymous there, or privacy in other people hearing those conversations and not wanting to be able to call in the moment. Being able to text someone in an experience as much as I may have to call someone and when you're experiencing it, so that's great. A lot of conversation happens about domestic violence, which obviously I was very happy to see during the pandemic. There were a lot of headlines that came out. Some articles said that the volume to hotlines is doubling, tripling, and quadrupling, others said it’s way down. And so, having that insider perspective of working at the hotline, what are some of the things that you saw change and shift during the pandemic, especially in the midst of it?
KATIE: Yeah. I think you really touched on kind of the conundrum around the domestic violence space because there wasn't consistency across the country on how even local communities were responding, it varied across the country. Overall, what we saw, in the beginning, was a decrease in individuals reaching out. For folks who were reaching out, they were definitely communicating concern over their ability to connect with services safely, given that the person who was causing harm was right in the same home with them and no one was leaving. Pre-pandemic, we would see the highest points of contact volume would be typically when people, either their partner left for work or they themselves arrived at work, when they were using their lunch break, or getting ready to go home, is when they feel like they had the opportunity to connect with our organization. A lot of those opportunities to do so were removed. Now, we do know that digital platforms did see a little bit more of leveling that folks were able to engage safely. But what we did see in terms of an increase in the beginning, was outreach from friends, family, and loved ones who were worried about someone they knew who was in lockdown with a person who is probably causing them harm and how could they help them. We were doing a lot of strategies with folks who were probably support people to survivors during that time. Now that we're moving through and hopefully fingers crossed, we're coming to the other side of the pandemic, we're seeing our highest contact volume in organization history. You mentioned the Google search feature, we think people are now feeling like it's safe for them to reach out and reconnect with services and talk about what's happened in their life over the last year and a half, two years. In February, we received 74,000 contacts into our organization, which is unprecedented. We've never seen that volume before. I think, given the Google search feature, what we're finding is there's a huge demand from people in our country. It really illustrates the pervasiveness of domestic violence in our country. We know that one in four women and one in seven men will experience physical violence in their lifetime by a loved one. The rates we're seeing really indicate high levels of emotional abuse, financial abuse, and digital abuse that's been happening. And that really doesn't fall into that one in four, one in seven physical abuse in your lifetime. I think it's going to be an interesting time to really collect data, and really dig deep into survivor experiences and what we're hearing on the lines, not only at the national hotline, but in local programs at the statewide level. Kathryn, you know this just as well as I do, the domestic violence service system has always been under-resourced. Oftentimes, when we're working to connect someone, the shelters might be full, there's a three-month waiting list for counseling services, and legal advocacy is very hard to come by. And so, when the hotline serves more people, local programs feel that as well because we're making those connections. This is the time where we need to be doing a lot of advocacy with our members of Congress, and folks in state legislature, to talk about the needs of survivors to ensure resources are going to local programs to really create a robust service system. Because as we've talked about today, when someone gets the courage to make that phone call, or they have a window of opportunity to connect for safety purposes, we have to seize that moment. We can't say three months down, there'll be someone. There is a lot of advocacy right now and I think we've seen different funding streams come out from the federal government around the issue of domestic violence and supporting local programs. But we're going to have to sustain that for a long time because the health impacts, the emotional impacts of domestic violence, don't go away when someone leaves the relationship. They're there for a long time, if not for a lifetime.
KATHRYN: And as you said, "seizing that moment", that opportunity when someone does call, and if you're sitting in that person's journey right there, they have that one moment, to call and you're probably the first call that they've ever made. They're having this reckoning inside of themselves about all of these things and then to be told, "Just kidding. Actually, I can't help you because services are overwhelmed or it's going to take three months." That is devastating to a survivor. I reached out. I made that jump. I was ready to do something right. [It takes] seven times on average to leave the situation. They're finally trying to leave and then the system holds them down. The system doesn't deliver. The system doesn't have the resourcing available to support that survivor. So they're forced to kind of stay in the situation. It just breaks my heart to see the under-resourcing of solutions for survivors and for victims. That's why I am so focused on, "Okay. Yes, we need to support survivors, and heal, and help them on those healing journeys, and financial journeys, and whatever the healing that they need to do to get out of that situation. But how can we prevent it?" How can we just not have that happen in the first place? I think that's a big shift that we're seeing as well is the focus more on prevention and resourcing. So I think it's a dual-sided thing, but yes we do. The government needs to step up. Like you said, these statistics that one in four women and one in seven men will experience physical violence. And like you said, that doesn't account for sexual violence or emotional abuse or financial abuse or digital stalking or revenge porn. When you pull all of these statistics together, I think it's one in one. Every person that I've ever met, especially women and vulnerable communities has experienced some harm, some level of harm and how are we supporting them?
KATIE: Yeah. I think it is absolutely a “Yes” and a conversation. We have to have the intervention services and then we need to be talking about prevention. You and I've had this conversation before about how many tools can we put in the toolbox for young people so we can get in front of it and you and I can move in a space, and our community can move in a space where we're not saying, "Oh, this happened to me." But people understand and have tools of red flags or concerning behavior. We're challenging gender and having conversations about dignity, respect, and what does that look like? Being able to feel comfortable to set boundaries because that feels good to you and not because you're pleasing someone else. All of the spaces we know, and as we've launched loveisrespect in 2007, which was meant to be a prevention platform, we saw it shift in 2009 when Chris Brown and Rihanna had a very highly publicized domestic violence incident. We had an outpouring of young girls who talked about severe physical violence. They had already encountered by the age of 13, 14, 15. That really moved us to a space to say, "Oh my gosh, we need to rethink this. What is the right age?" I used to be a preschool teacher and we talked about hands are not for hitting, use your words. Somewhere we lost that verbiage. It changes even in elementary school and boundaries begin to shift. We talk about bullying and what is effective communication strategies we can be teaching young people to really be able to set boundaries and empower them to be able to use their voice, to speak for their needs, and wants versus violence.
KATHRYN: Those age-appropriate conversations are critical to prevention, and even survivor intervention, and in healing, etc. Society teaches us, especially women and those marginalized to shrink yourself and please other people, and don't have boundaries because boundaries don't make other people happy. That's what you're designed for. We're just taught, all of these things. They are ingrained. I often say, consent is often taught as early as when you start tickling a child and the child says “No”, and you keep doing it. They're taught that my body doesn't belong to me. It belongs to an adult. This is how abuse is perpetuated in these circles and things like that. I love that you said that it is all of the resources, all of the tools, all the verbiage, throughout someone's life, throughout someone's journey, because it's not the college campus webinar that they have to click through. It's not the health education class that they took in seventh grade. It is a culmination of all of these things. I think that loveisrespect and this digital side of the conversation coming into play, I think that the internet has really helped and hurt abuse. Because the internet enables us to learn about these topics. What is love bombing? What is gaslighting? What are healthy relationships, etc. Get access to the hotline. But a lot of abuse has occurred because of the internet. A lot of digital abuse is happening and it's shifting right. Things like partners asking for passwords, installing things like stalkerware on someone's device or AirTags, inputting their Face ID into their partner's device, all of these things to monitor and again, that power and control over someone else. Can you talk a little bit about what you've seen as it relates to online abuse? I know in preparation for this conversation, you also mentioned this false binary between online and in-person abuse. Can you just pull that thread a little bit as well?
KATIE: Yeah, I think it's so interesting as we think about technology and it seems like every time new technology is pushed out it's really under a layer of look at how this is going to increase your safety. I think about home security systems, even like, "Oh my gosh, you can use your phone to lock your doors when you're not home." Well, flip that around to a space where someone who's causing harm, locks their partner into their house and is holding them captive or using AirTags to track their partner's movements. There's always this space of folks who are advocates in the space of gender-based violence, doing anti-violence work in general, we're always wearing a lens. How can I flip that over to think of how someone who might want to cause harm may be able to use that? Now, I think technology companies, in general, are realizing the impacts as they've been moving and advocates have said, "Whoa, hold on." Now they're being more responsive and pulling people from the field into their safety teams and engaging in product design because of the negative implications a lot of technology can have on violence against women in particular. So I think we're moving spaces there. I think what's been really interesting from survivors is that there's been really a dichotomy that's existed of, "Well, that's not domestic violence because it's happening over here, but this is happening over here." But, this is really about an intersectionality point into the issue of domestic violence. I'll say it again, this is a “yes-end” conversation. This abuse that happens in a digital space is still domestic violence. Anything that's happening that makes someone feel unsafe in a relationship is unhealthy or abusive. Being able to engage with an advocate is so critical to be able to be like, "This is what's happening, talk to me." so you can really arm yourself with education and information about the ways digital abuse can be occurring. I think that's similar even as we think about financial abuse. I was speaking to a survivor earlier this week who said, "He knows me well. He never hit me." But he's never given her access to the bank account in 17 years of marriage. She's not even on the bank account and she was separating like, this is not domestic violence, or this is a form of power and control. In digital spaces, technology can be a form of power and control over someone else that is causing isolation, fear, intimidation, and manipulation. There's just a wide range of things that technology is being used for. We hear a lot of young people in particular who reach out and say, "I gave my partner all my passwords and they're threatening to go in and put pictures up of me or out me to my community." Being able to leverage the technology in a space to really create fear. That is abusive. That's a form of power and control we want to be able to talk about. It is thinking about boundaries. Kathryn, you and I talked about this, physical boundaries, there are digital boundaries we're doing a lot of education on now as well because you want to be creating boundaries in all aspects of your life and making sure you have access to your information and not feeling pressured that you have to get everything over to your partner.
KATHRYN: Oh, man. I had so many flashbacks when you were talking because a lot of my experiences have been digital abuse or financial abuse. There is some physical abuse in my journey, but a lot of it was digital abuse. I think I did the same thing. I didn't recognize it as abuse. I thought like, "Oh, this is weird or different." or "He is stalking me through having access to my location all the time. But I gave him access to my location." So then you start that victim-blaming process, and when you talk about financial abuse, and you talk about how domestic violence can impact someone for their whole life, when you were talking, I had this revelation that I'm still being financially abused in a relationship that I escaped [from] because of going through the justice system. He plays these games of wanting to just have me pay as much as possible in lawyer bills. That's still financial abuse. That just hit me all of a sudden. I am still experiencing domestic violence. I didn't even label it as that, but like I just had this reckoning that is [domestic violence].
KATIE: I think one of my biggest challenges or frustrations in this space is how often someone says, "Well, if she just left..., why doesn't she just leave?" The reality is, it gets harder when you leave and it's not necessarily easy. To your point, Kathryn, we hear a lot of stories about using the judicial system, the court system to continue to keep the survivor engaged in this unhealthy dynamic. The financial pieces are long-term. When a partner ruins your credit intentionally, so you can't get an apartment or you can't live independently, and you're trying to take care of your kids, those are the difficult conversations and decisions you're having to make in that moment. That's why I can always see when someone's like, "I just didn't know how to break free. It's complicated." Even thinking, a survivor myself, there are things that can happen that trigger me and this was years ago and I'm taken back to being a young teenage girl all over again. I've been out of the relationship 26 years. There is this space where people really need to understand a survivor's journey. There's not a destination, it's a continuous journey of healing, and learning, and reflection. People realizing when someone's triggered that they can be there for that person and not expecting them to say that “Chapter of your life is closed, move on.” It's complex.
KATHRYN: It’s complex, it sticks with you. I think, I say only survivors would understand: survivor to survivor. Often, I'm in these spaces with women all the time, we see each other because we have both survived something or many somethings. But I'm hopeful that doesn't just happen in survivor spaces, that other people who may have not experienced trauma, or they don't recognize their trauma. I think that's it's like we have all been traumatized by a white patriarchal capitalistic society that is very toxic. Toxic masculinity, and the ways in which all of this harm manifests itself in our lives. And so, I've been talking to a lot of women and going through my own journey and saying, "Oh, that was sexual assault.”, “Oh, that was abuse." you're going back, you're reflecting on that journey. And now you have the verbiage, you can label it as abuse. I think I'm so hopeful for [it]. You hear older generations especially say, "Well, that's normal." or "I went through that." and they normalize bad behavior. I'm hoping that by now, through technology, education, and verbiage, and having this language, they can go back and reflect on their own journeys and say, "Wow, that did hurt me more than I thought." and "I do still need to heal from it and go on this journey." Like you said, it's not a linear path. There is no destination. It's ongoing and how can we help people on that journey and heal from the trauma that happened to them? And then the trauma that will likely happen to them again if they don't go through the healing journey.
KATIE: Yeah. I think it's such an interesting space where I'm hopeful to your point. We can recognize the trauma. We ourselves experienced and have the verbiage around it or someone we loved. To this conversation, the pervasiveness and reality that folks have most likely encountered trauma somewhere in their lifetime. We just didn't know that's what that was and didn't have the verbiage to label it. My husband grew up in a home where he witnessed his mom be abused by numerous partners over his lifetime. At times he jumped in the middle of it to protect his mom and made the decision that, that wasn't going to be what he did. No way I'm doing that. Not everybody has that. Sometimes folks have watched violence and then learned, "Oh, that got a desired outcome by using power and control." and that's the space I think we really need to be unpacking. For folks to really engage children who witnessed violence, to connect them to counseling services, even if you think they didn't see anything, they were sleeping, they sense something's going on or something's happening. For us to stop that generational cycle, we have to be able to talk about our experiences. I continue to move that space of being optimistic. We're going to move away from the victim-blaming that happens. I think it's still prevalent and a lot of conversations. “She must've said something.” or “What did she do?” It doesn't matter what someone says. They shouldn't leave a car black and blue with bruises and busted lips. That shouldn't be happening. So if we can move that space to say, "Yes, I survived this. This happened." and we can continue to educate. I am optimistic, Kathryn, you and I will work ourselves out of a job at some point, or that at least that next generation can have that tangible piece of dignity, respect, and feeling safe in their relationships because that's what we really all want. We have a common goal, regardless of your political beliefs. I think most people, in general, want a world in which people can have safe, healthy, positive relationships that are free from violence.
KATHRYN: Exactly. The world is transforming in many ways. I am very optimistic that we are moving away from this victim-blaming. I think it takes powerful, women and people who have experienced trauma and it sucks. I just had a conversation about trauma porn and having to tell your story over and over and over again, which traumatizes you, but hopefully changes the world. I see the world shifting and I am optimistic about it. Something that I see shifting as well is safety on the internet. That's a big shift. We saw that in the partnership that Match made with Garbo. For example, putting background checks into online dating, that was a huge first step. We're seeing ID verification pop up and we're seeing all of these things happen. How do you foresee two sides of it? How do you see digital abuse evolving, especially as it relates to the metaverse, and Web3, and things like that? How do you see the resources available to survivors to combat that evolving?
KATIE: I think I touched on this a little bit, but I think it's such an important topic. I think as technology companies engage experts in product development that will be key. We're not in a reactive space, thinking through the stories we're hearing of people who've been sexually assaulted in virtual reality games and I remember hearing that story and being like, "Wait, what? Why would someone think that that's okay?", but I would not have made that connection myself of that being a possibility. I think as much as we can think through, we talked about this a little bit, the things that we put in place technology-wise for fun, for safety, there's another lens of someone who's looking at that as a way to possibly cause harm, isolate, create fear. I definitely am not often the life of a party because I wear that lens a lot of "Well, let's think about how that could be used maliciously." I could be Debbie Downer in a lot of places, but there's definitely a space where we have to wear that lens because, again, just so many things that we think, "Oh my gosh, this is going to be great. You're going to feel safer." We know that oftentimes that vehicle is being used by someone to create harm. I think that's the challenging space to also stay in front of it. I think oftentimes that’s someone calling a hotline and saying, "Oh, my partner's using a tracking device that was built into my purse that I had no idea about." and we're reacting if we can be on the front end and really think through technology with that lens of how could this maybe be used to create harm. That's certainly not foolproof or there's no room for error in that, but I think we could reduce a lot of harm that is created on the front end, by being proactive and thinking through those strategies. I think, Kathryn, one of the things I love about your partnership with Match - the background checks - it's another tool in the toolbox. I know I keep saying that, but it's what people need. They need to know there are options because oftentimes if someone's going to be choosing harm, they don't come out and say that. They don't say, "Hey, I want to know your location because I'm going to control you." They say, "I am so concerned for your safety. It's so dangerous out there, particularly for a woman. I want to know where you're at. I care about you so much." It's under the disguise of caring and love, and who doesn't want caring and love? There's really a spatial like, "Oh, that's so sweet." I think we're also cultured to believe jealousy is a positive emotion. It shows someone loves us. Jealousy is a natural emotion, but how we react to that is where it becomes very unhealthy and abusive. So wearing those lenses early on, I think we can do a lot of good work to prevent and give people tools to do their own work. Especially, if they're not feeling safe or the radar's going up. We all know at this point, that if your radar's going off, you're probably right. So trust your gut that something doesn't feel right. And if you're wrong, yay! But if you're right, it's better to know sooner rather than later. I'm just loving the pieces of resources being put in front of people sooner rather than later, which is what's beautiful, what Google's doing around several social justice issues- and if you're searching for certain words, the resources are coming right to the top. So you're not having to weed through them. And then those organizations will help connect you to where you need to go versus you having to bury through, particularly if you're in a point of crisis.
KATHRYN: Safety by design is where I think technology is hopefully shifting, like you said, instead of being reactive like, "Oh, AirTags can be used for harm." Let's put a little beep beep noise in them retroactively, "Oh, we'll make that beep beep noise louder because it wasn't loud enough." Rachel Gibson, who is on our board and our advocacy council here, she always says that I was the first person to ever approach her proactively. Right? Like, "Can you help me build this?" rather than, "Can you help me fix this thing that I already built that is now causing a lot of harm?" I said, "Can you help me build this in a way in which causes the least amount of harm possible and makes an equitable solution." Rather than building for the bell curve, I always say, which is what technology has done, build for the average user. Well, the average user is probably not experiencing that much harm either, right? You have to build for the margins those most vulnerable to harm. When you solve their problem, you start to solve the bell curve problem and the average problem. Creating policy around the craziest things, the most dramatic things. So that way, when other things happen, you already have that policy because you know how bad it can go. And so, like you said, I'm always like bad actor hat on like, "How would like a bad person think about this?" and "How could this be a weapon?" Even with every feature that we're developing here, I'm like, "Okay, how could that be weaponized?" or "How could that cause harm?" because the criminal justice system causes a lot of harm to people. Not only does it help people hopefully get some justice or prevent the next crime from happening, which is really I think what most people want, but it also traumatizes justice impacted folks on both sides of it, whether that's a survivor being impacted by the justice system or a person being wrongfully impacted by the criminal justice system. Whether that's people of color having stronger sentences for the same types of offenses, the focus on low-level, minor offenses. The fact that 42% or 46% of those federally incarcerated are there for drug offenses, while less than 1% are there for sexual assault is like "What?" I'm hoping that through all of these conversations, through this shift in proactive safety by design, by bringing people to the table who have lived experiences, we can start to shift things and shift the narrative and create accountability and create a safer society where we can just heal from that trauma and come from a place of healing rather than a place of hurt.
KATIE: Yeah. I think that's the dream. Really creating paths for if someone is experiencing violence, that they can choose the path that's right for them versus us putting on a, "Well, you have to call the police and you have to prosecute" because of the complexities around this particular issue and all the ways in which someone is harming someone that should really be survivor driven and hopefully a system that they get the outcome they were seeking, not the outcome someone else was seeking. I think that's where we'll really begin to see shifts. And you're right. We have to wear that bad actor hat at times to figure out how different places, different technology can be being used to harm someone so we can be proactive and not reactive.
KATHRYN: As we wrap up this today, I've just reflected on so many things. Other conversations I've had, like bringing up the conversation last season I had with Dani Ayers from MeToo about the healing journey, with Eva Galperin on what does justice look like? And she, for the first time said, "Justice looks like whatever the survivor says it looks like." It was like it awakened so much into me. I did come from a place of like, "Oh, you should do this." or "You should do that." and I think I've had to unlearn a lot of it in my own journey and doing this work and working in trust and safety and gender-based violence. And so, I just really want to thank you for your wisdom and the grace that you bring to this work, the joy that you bring to this work, the love and passion that you bring to this work because I heard Toronto Burke say once, "We come to this work because we are this work." and I think that just resonates so much with me. And, as you look to the future of The National Domestic Violence Hotline and your own journey and things like that, where do you really see it going? Like, what's next?
KATIE: Yeah. I think our number one focus right now is ensuring we have access and because demand is far exceeding the resources as we've talked about today, that is our goal: is to really engage members of our community across the country in supporting this issue at the national state and local level because resources are needed. It's going to take all of us to really embody this conversation we're having. Kathryn, your ability to innovate and think through how do we just keep adding resources? It's going to be people who come to this space and be like, "I've got something to add." that I hadn't thought I could add, because I've just learned something. That's how we're going to change the discourse in our country around gender-based violence and really ending it.
We hope you enjoyed this conversation. If you're interested in learning more about the topics discussed in this episode or about our guests, visit our website at https://www.garbo.io Now available: Garbo's new kind of online background check makes it easy to see if someone in your life has a history of causing harm while balancing privacy and protection in the digital age. This episode was produced by Imani Nichols, with whisper and mutter. I'm Kathryn Kosmides and I look forward to having you join us for the next episode of Reckoning.
We work with online platforms to help proactively protect their communities through our innovative background check system. Get in touch to learn more about how we can integrate Garbo or help you proactively screen users at sacale.