Healing Abuse Working for Change: Countering an Epidemic of Domestic Violence

As domestic abuse cases rise during COVID-19, HAWC offers many ways to help and protect victims.

April 23, 2020

If you live on the North Shore and find yourself in an unsafe domestic situation or know someone who is, call 1-800-547-1649 anytime, night or day.

The quarantine that we are all living under now is designed to keep us safe, but many of the issues that contribute to domestic violence are only intensified by social distancing, and are placing many women and children in greater danger.

“The root of domestic violence is one partner’s desire to control the other,” says Sara Stanley, Esq., Executive Director of HAWC (Healing Abuse Working for Change). “And issues that exacerbate violence, such as financial stress or the loss of a job, are widespread during this crisis. Some folks who have been living with an abuser and just getting by, now find themselves in an untenable situation. Suddenly they’re completely isolated and living in close quarters with their abuser without the ability to take the kids out to the park or the library or seek support from friends and family.”

HAWC logo
One of Greater Boston’s leading domestic violence agencies, HAWC serves some 2,500 North Shore individuals and families every year with a team of 22. The vast majority of their clients, 95 percent, are women.

Even though it can be hard to find the privacy to make a desperate phone call for help while living in close proximity to an abuser, over the last month, HAWC’s hotline calls have doubled when compared with the same time period last year. And because it’s impossible for clients to visit one of HAWC’s offices, which are temporarily closed, the hotline is the primary way in which women are reaching out. HAWC is also turning to new ways of communicating, such as text messaging, which can be done quickly and quietly.

“Many of our callers are not aware that even though the courts are closed, they can still seek a protective order,” says Stanley. A HAWC attorney can help walk a survivor through the process and even be on the line with a judge when the call is made. One caller who was afraid of an abusive boyfriend contacted HAWC and was able to obtain a protective order. The organization also has the capacity to relocate shelter clients to self-contained units to keep them safe. “That capacity has been strengthened by the grant from the Boston Foundation,” adds Stanley.

HAWC’s staff members and volunteers are even helping to meet basic needs in these unparalleled times, such as connecting clients with diapers or formula. And since some children in a family experiencing domestic violence often have limited access to resources, HAWC is also encouraging remote learning by distributing Chromebooks and Kindles so that they can continue their education while out of school. These devices are also important lifelines so that the family can engage in mental and physical telehealth.

When asked why she has chosen to lead a nonprofit battling domestic violence rather than take a lucrative job with a law firm, Stanley replies, “I believe with my whole heart that increasing safety for people at home is the bedrock to all progress. Empowering women is the most important thing we can do to help our communities thrive. I am grateful for the opportunity to do this work every day.”  


This is one in a series of stories about grantees of the Boston Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund. These Greater Boston nonprofits are on the front-lines of our community's response to this crisis. While we are all struggling to cope with the hardships of the coronavirus, these organizations, their leaders and their staff are serving the most vulnerable among us. Boston Indicators, the Boston Foundation’s Research Center, is providing valuable data and analysis for these stories. Visit tbf.org for more on the COVID-19 Response Fund.