ANNAPOLIS – Verizon Wireless will donate cell phones and airtime to victims of domestic abuse who have found safety under a new law requiring court offices to be open seven days a week.
Verizon soon will deliver used cell phones to 35 court commissioner offices around the state to connect those in need with area services.
“This is a way to provide additional protection,” said Sherri Cunningham, spokeswoman for Verizon. “They are pre-programmed with shelter hotlines, legal advocates, and other victim services.”
The phone donations are part of Verizon’s national “HopeLine” program, in which the company collects used cell phones and accessories, cleans them up and re-sells them. The profits then are used to provide service, including airtime, to the participating region. Since the start of HopeLine in 1995, Verizon has collected more than 1 million phones.
Maryland drop-off sites received nearly 2,000 phones, enabling Verizon to, in turn, donate 100 phones to the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence.
The donated phones will remain with the staff at the commissioner offices and will be available for use by those who come in to file orders of protection. Confidential voice mail accounts can be set up by the company for victims who have been discouraged from phone use.
“No one knows and you can be confident that no one can stop you from the information you need,” Cunningham said. “You have to give someone a phone number.” Attorney General J. Joseph Curran said once the phones are in place, it can help prevent a battered victim from having to return home from court to make phone calls for help.
“Having a preprogrammed phone there permits the victim the use of a phone for service providers right then and there…before they go home,” he said.
Verizon said the phones can be a lifeline.
“In addition to when a victim comes in, we can offer them some essential services,” Cunningham said. “For victims to take that first step, it takes a lot of courage. It could end up saving someone’s life.”
“Once you look at the statistics…it’s important for everyone to realize that this exists and shouldn’t happen, but there are now places that you can turn to for help,” she said.
Data collected since the courts opened for 24-hour service in December, through Feb. 20, revealed district court commissioners issued 1,499 interim protective orders during nights, weekends, and holidays when courts are usually closed, according to Maryland’s Family Violence Council.
The council is a partnership between the Attorney General’s Office and the office of Lt. Gov. Michael Steele.
In the state’s highest favorable ballot vote since 1972, 87.5 percent of Marylanders last November voted to allow commissioners to issue interim protective orders while the courts are closed.
“It has given them significant relief that was not available before December of last year,” said Curran. “It does indicate that there is a lot of use of this judicial remedy.”
Half of domestic violence incidents occur between 7 p.m. and 1 a.m., according to statistics at the office of the attorney general.
“The data . . . clearly shows that so much of this happens after court hours,” Curran said.
Only six states permit commissioners, or court personnel other than judges, to intervene in domestic violence cases. Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and South Carolina allow non-judges to issue “victim stay-away” orders.
Opening the doors after hours for victims of domestic abuse was an important step in protecting those in harm’s way, said Michaele Cohen, executive director Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence.
“Hopefully it’s given people more access to this protection when they need it most. And a lot of times things cannot wait,” she said. “This was a huge increase in accessibility in protection and safety.”
Also important is that all of the needs of the victim are met as soon as they have the courage to come forward, said Curran.
Maryland’s Family Violence Council welcomes the donation from Verizon.
“When they’re available we’re hopeful that victims will have immediate assistance so there won’t be any lag from getting assistance from the court and the provider,” said Twilah Shipley, the council’s assistant director. “It should make this easier.”