Old cell phones offer a lifeline for abuse victims
The simple act of recycling a used cell phone rather than throwing it away or letting it rest in a drawer could provide a lifeline for a victim of domestic violence or abuse, thanks to a unique collaboration between the Oak Bluffs Police department and Verizon, a national provider of wireless service.
Now through mid-May, the Oak Bluffs Police Department (OBPD) is sponsoring a used cell phone collection drive in support of Verizon Wireless's HopeLine program. The program provides refurbished wireless phones to domestic violence organizations.
The OBPD has collected used cell phones for a number of years. But a recent act of senseless domestic violence that hit close to home so moved police clerk Jeannie Pierson that she wanted to do something and decided to step up those efforts.
On January 23, an abusive, ex-boyfriend murdered Allison Myrick, a 19-year-old Fitchburg State College student and the daughter of Times reporter Steve Myrick, after the young woman agreed to meet him at his mother's house in Shirley.
For help and information
*CONNECT to end violence staff and volunteers operate a hotline 24 hours every day. Call 508-696-7233 (SAFE) for assistance with any domestic or sexual violence crisis, whether a recent event, flashbacks from a previous experience, or just pressing questions regarding a situation.
*For non-emergencies, contact Connect from 9 am to 5 pm at 508-693-7900, ext. 221.
*A National Teen Dating Abuse hotline is available by calling 1-866-331-9474.
*Information about Connect is available online at mvcommunityservices.com. Connect's website also provides a link to Jane Doe Inc., the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence. The organization's website janedoe.org offers information and listings of resources statewide.
*Break the Cycle, a national nonprofit organization addressing teen dating violence, features online quizzes and information geared to teens about how to prevent, diagnose, and escape unhealthy relationships online at thesafespace.org.
Ms. Pierson knows Mr. Myrick as a result of the reporter's regular news coverage of Oak Bluffs. Following news of the murder of Allison Myrick, she fielded calls from police department members and others in the community who know Mr. Myrick and wanted to convey their sympathy to him.
"In the back of my mind, I knew that the used cell phones we collected went to help with domestic violence," Ms. Pierson told The Times. "After what happened to Steve's daughter, it really kind of hit home, and I thought, what could we do here? So I thought if we could do a drive for phones, and maybe we could highlight that this is something that is really important."
Ms. Pierson called Mr. Myrick and said the department wanted to conduct a phone drive in his daughter's memory. Mr. Myrick welcomed the idea as a way to bring more awareness of domestic violence.
"Please take this as an example that this can happen to anyone," the Myrick family said in a press statement shortly after Allison's death. "If you are in a situation that is in any way abusive, no matter how small it may seem at first, please ask for help. You cannot fix this yourself, and no matter how many times your abuser says that he has changed, you cannot trust that.''
Ms. Pierson found information online about the HopeLine program. She then contacted Verizon Wireless for help in organizing an Island collection drive. In response, the media relations staff offered to provide collection boxes, pick them up, and publicize the effort.
"I've been here for seven years, and we've always sent used cell phones off to Verizon," Ms. Pierson said. "We were always paying to do that, but I didn't realize they would pick them up and everything else."
Oak Bluffs Police Chief Erik Blake said that his department is excited about partnering with Verizon Wireless in the recycling initiative. He commended Ms. Pierson for coming up with the idea and making it happen.
"Everybody, including myself, seems to have an old cell phone lying around at home, so let's hope they all bring them in," Mr. Blake said. Supporting a program that helps the victims of domestic violence is also part of the police department's role, to provide an avenue for further help after the fact of the actual incident, arrest and court hearing, he added.
"Our goal is to be part of the whole picture, not just when there's a crisis, to try to cut down on repeat incidents and play a part in helping people break the cycle of domestic violence," Chief Blake said.
HopeLine collection boxes are available at the Oak Bluffs police station, and also at The Times office in Vineyard Haven, for cell phones of all vintages, from all carriers, working or not, as well as batteries and accessories.
How HopeLine works
Verizon Wireless uses money generated from recycling to purchase standardized handset cell phones with 3,000 minutes available, spokesperson Michael Murphy explained.
The phones are then distributed to law enforcement agencies and domestic violence organizations to give to those who need them most. Verizon Wireless checks back yearly to find out which phone numbers should be replenished with additional minutes, Mr. Murphy said.
Proceeds from HopeLine recycling program also are used to provide wireless phones and financial grants to local shelters and nonprofit organizations that focus on domestic violence prevention and awareness, according to a Verizon Wireless press release.
Since 2001, Verizon Wireless has donated more than 90,000 wireless phones with service to victims, survivors, and domestic violence organizations, and kept almost 200 tons of electronic waste and batteries out of landfills by recycling used phones.
Citing sobering statistics reported in the Boston Globe on February 3, Ms. Pierson noted that there were eight homicides, including Allison's, linked to domestic violence in Massachusetts in the first five weeks of the New Year.
She also learned through her research that the month of February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month.
The Senate resolution that made the designation noted that, "Approximately one in three adolescent girls in the U.S. is a victim of physical, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner, a figure that far exceeds victimization rates for other types of violence affecting youth."
"Maybe we can reach teenage girls on Martha's Vineyard before they graduate and go off-Island to school," Ms. Pierson said.
That is one of the goals of CONNECT to end violence (hereafter referred to as Connect), the support center for survivors of domestic and sexual violence and their family members that is run by Martha's Vineyard Community Services under the direction of program director Carrie Giacomini-White.
"The statistics for women in abusive relationships as adults is approximately one in four, and it's the same for teenagers," Ms. White said. "Most people are shocked to hear that. There are kids over in the high school right now that are being abused. And there are these young abusers, which I think is frightening."
Connect started a high school group a year ago to raise awareness of teen issues around relationships and personal safety, and to get more teens involved in efforts to end domestic and sexual violence in the community.
Prevention specialist Bess Child meets twice a month with the Connect Teen Group, which has grown to more than 20 participants.
Volunteer coordinator Aita Romain, who also helps with outreach efforts, said in addition the Connect staff attends eight-grade health classes at the Oak Bluffs and Edgartown schools to discuss topics including healthy relationships, sexual harassment, bullying, and stalking.
Although most of Connect's work involves direct services, Ms. White said that awareness and prevention of domestic violence also are strong components of the program. "We really are trying to do the prevention work by helping people to become more aware about the problem of domestic violence and to recognize some of the warning signs," she said.
An abusive male partner, for example, may push or shove his wife or girlfriend, blame her for his lack of control, make her feel as if she is crazy, use money as a way of controlling her, and/or isolate her from friends and family, according to Connect's website.
"Even if someone is in an abusive relationship, they can't necessarily help themselves get out of it, so we try to help people around them learn how to help," Ms. White added.
Connect runs a weekly workshop and support group for women, "Promoting Healthy Relationships in Your Life," in five-week cycles throughout the year. Those interested can sign up and start at any time.
Connect's court advocate, Tina Fitch, is available to domestic violence and abuse victims at the Dukes County Courthouse several days a week when court is in session to answer questions and assist with obtaining and extending restraining orders. Attorney Eve Gates also acts as a resource.
Connect continues to expand services and outreach programs through grants. Thanks to Ms. Pierson, who mentioned the organization to Mr. Murphy while talking about HopeLine, there may be more to come. "I've reached out to Connect, and we're looking forward to speaking with them about ways in which we could support some of the work that they're doing in the community," Mr. Murphy said.