Think of three women you care about. Maybe they are relatives, friends or co-workers. Now consider this: according to national statistics, one of these three women is currently or will be a victim of domestic violence.

Unfortunately, many women in destructive relationships aren’t able to escape. Abusers establish many barriers that prevent victims from leaving. Most use threats and verbal abuse to gain emotional and mental control, take away transportation and monitor phone usage to ensure their victims aren’t getting help from the outside world. For these women, a cell phone can be a valuable tool for achieving a way out, but many can’t afford them because their abuser controls household finances as well.

That is why Cricket Communications, a leading provider of unlimited wireless services, has partnered with the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee to provide free phones and service to victims of abuse in order to help them escape their abusive relationships. Cell phones make victims feel safer and provide a way to call for help when they need it.

“Sometimes we take the power and importance of communication for granted,” said Bill Boyce, Cricket district director for Middle Tennessee. “By providing victims with free communication, we can provide them with a greater sense of security and, hopefully, a greater chance to get out.”

Under the new program, victims are screened by Legal Aid advocates and attorneys that act as counselors. Those who are most deserving in need receive a free Cricket cell phone and service. The main criteria for eligibility is that the victims are taking active steps to leave their abuser through legal action, that all communication is cut off between the victim and the abuser and that the victim must remain in contact with their Legal Aid advocate.

“Unfortunately, domestic violence is a very real problem in Nashville and throughout the country. Providing victims with free phones and service can play a big part in the solution,” said Ashley Wiltshire.

Jean Crowe, executive director for the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and managing attorney for Family Law with the Legal Aid Society said “We are happy excited to partner with Cricket in this effort.”

Whitney McFalls, an advocate with Legal Aid Society, works directly with victims of domestic abuse and knows firsthand how important a cell phone becomes to a victim.

“I recently spoke with a client who had a cell phone during her separation and now pending divorce,” said McFalls. “The victim said that her phone was her safety net and called it a lifesaver. She would not go anywhere without her phone. It supported her both emotionally and physically and was irreplaceable. She felt safe with a phone because although her abuser didn’t know where she was when she left, he did know where she worked. She was afraid he would attack her.”

McFalls also knows how frustrating it can be for victims who can’t afford cell phones.

“She had an order of protection before she left her relationship because her husband made threats to kill her, her children and to burn down their house,” said McFalls, referring to a former client who has already gotten a divorce. “She said that because her husband continuously harassed and threatened her, she would have felt much safer with a phone. She never got a cell phone because she could not afford one. She ended up using a lot of quarters.”

Free Cricket phones and service are given to victims for a limited time – until legal actions taken to leave abusive relationships are completedto use until their divorce is complete and then passed on to other victims. Recipients receive full service including unlimited minutes, text, instant and picture messaging within their local calling area. Except for contacting their abusers, there are no restrictions on whom recipients can call.

“When we saw a need in our local community, so we didn’t have to think twice about establishing this program,” said Boyce.

For those currently experiencing domestic abuse, the Legal Aid Society publishes a number of self-help booklets in both English and Spanish on how victims can get help, protect their family and stay safe from further abuse. These are available at no cost at the Legal Aid offices, 300 Deaderick St. in Nashville, or for download at the Legal Aid Society Web site, Legal Aid can also be reached at 1-800-238-1443.

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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