Expanding Advocacy at NIWRC’s StrongHearts Native Helpline

By CC Hovie, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, Communications Manager, StrongHearts Native Helpline

StrongHearts Native Helpline is set to launch 24/7 operations as well as text advocacy in February 2021

Pandemic Impacts

Fueled by the need during an unprecedented pandemic, StrongHearts Native Helpline has been working hard to add services to address the needs of a population disproportionately affected by both the COVID-19 pandemic and domestic violence.

A recent study1 by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that in the 23 states studied, Native Americans were diagnosed with COVID-19 at a 3.5 times higher rate than the non-Hispanic white population. Furthermore, we know that Native peoples experience domestic violence at much higher rates. According to the National Institute of Justice, more than one in two Native women and one in three Native men have experienced physical violence by intimate partners in their lifetime.2 Moreover, Native women are victims of violent crimes at 3.5 times the rate of the national average. Yet another recent study by the Radiological Society of North America confirmed what we suspected: that lockdowns have contributed to increased rates and severity of domestic violence across the country.

The pandemic forces millions of victim-survivors to shelter in place with their abusive partners for longer periods of time. The disproportionate effects of domestic violence and COVID-19 combined with a lack of sufficient healthcare and other resources are compounding the marginalization and victimization of Indigenous peoples.

Through our own research at StrongHearts Native Helpline, we have uncovered a severe gap in resources to help those who need it most. According to the National Institute of Justice’s 2016 report,3 more than one in three Native female victims and one in six Native male victims report unmet service needs. Of the 3,909 domestic and sexual violence providers reported by the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the StrongHearts Native Helpline, only 266 are Native providers (6.8%). Shelters are even worse—of the 1,653 domestic and sexual violence shelters identified by The Hotline and StrongHearts, less than four percent are Native-centered shelters.

Created by and for Native Americans, StrongHearts is uniquely equipped to serve a population facing some of the highest rates of domestic and sexual violence in the United States. According to StrongHearts’ data, the severity of victims’ experiences is telling: more than seven out of ten victim-survivor callers reported experiencing more than one type of abuse (70%), including physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, digital abuse, cultural abuse, and other complex situations. Nearly half of Native callers experiencing violence reported a child being involved in their situation (38%). The top service requested by Native victim-survivors was peer support. Referrals to shelters was the second most requested service.

1 https://bit.ly/3c1WMsi

2 https://bit.ly/3bLz57P

3 https://bit.ly/3bUxYTi


24/7 Operations

Offering services across six time zones throughout the U.S. is challenging when hours of operation are limited. 

Increasing operations to 24/7 will allow more of those impacted by domestic and sexual violence in tribal communities across the nation to reach the helpline when they are most in need. To meet the goal of 24/7 operations, StrongHearts added additional advocates and support staff. Nine advocates were hired and trained in December 2020 and three additional advocates were brought on board in January 2021.

“Domestic violence impacts our relatives every hour of every day, so it’s critical for us to be available as much as possible,” said StrongHearts Services Manager Joy Samuelson (Standing Rock Sioux Tribe).

Text Advocacy

Similar to chat advocacy, text advocacy will increase accessibility for those who may be hearing impaired or those who feel more comfortable texting.

“Social norms and technology are changing and texting may appeal to a younger audience who may feel a phone call is too formal or intimidating,” said Anna Nicolosi, StrongHearts Operations Manager.

Implementing this new service will also help those 

that are facing isolation and barriers to using a phone to access advocacy services. StrongHearts realizes it is important to stay current and offer many options to reach out for help in order to remain accessible to all victim-survivors.


In the past 12 months, while all staff has been working from home, StrongHearts added chat advocacy, sexual violence advocacy and text advocacy as well as increasing operations to 24/7 availability.

New Website Coming Soon

StrongHearts expects to announce the launch date for a new, improved user-friendly website soon, too. Check out our website at strongheartshelpline.org or follow StrongHearts Native Helpline on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for the most current information.