The National Domestic Violence Hotline has seen an 84 percent increase in phone calls in the two days since a video leaked of former NFL player Ray Rice knocking his then-fiancée unconscious in an elevator.
Katie Ray-Jones, the CEO of the hotline, said it normally receives 500 to 600 calls a day from domestic violence victims and their concerned friends or family members. But after the Rice video was circulated online Monday, the hotline received over 1,000 phone calls. The numbers continued to climb on Tuesday.
"We had an outpouring of women saying, 'Oh my god, I didn't realize this happened to other people.' They thought they were living a life that was very unique to them," Ray-Jones told The Huffington Post. "One woman called in who is married to a [mixed martial arts] fighter. She said, 'I just saw that video, and I know my husband could do worse, and I need help."
Ray-Jones said the hotline does not have enough advocates on staff to field the calls, which continue all night long. There are 15 to 18 staff members answering calls during the day and seven or eight overnight, but they were already overwhelmed before the surge of calls began earlier this week. The hotline also has a "relief staff pool," but it doesn't have the financial resources to sustain it for any significant period of time.
"Last year, we didn't answer over 77,000 calls due to lack of resources," Ray-Jones said. "Our advocates were really busy before, so they're definitely feeling the impact of the video now. This is a situation where women are holding longer on the lines and waiting for an advocate to be free. But we don't have the financial resources to bring in more staff, so we're at a place where we're just encouraging advocates to do the best they can."
The National Domestic Violence Hotline receives a large portion of its funding from the federal government, but its budget was cut last year due to the automatic cuts known as sequestration. Congress gave the hotline a funding boost for next year that will go into effect on Oct. 1, however, and that will hopefully provide some relief to the overworked hotline staffers.
The good news, Ray-Jones said, is that the video of the Ray Rice incident is sparking a national conversation about domestic violence and encouraging more women to reach out for help. She hopes the attention on the issue will pressure Congress to give more funding to domestic violence programs and to pass legislation that would take guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.
"We need to take the survivors' voices to the Hill," she said. "This is real. This issue has a face. And people saw a face with Ray Rice and the imagery of what people are experiencing."
Rice, a running back for the Baltimore Ravens, was suspended from the NFL indefinitely on Monday.
This article was updated after publication to reflect calls the hotline received on Tuesday.