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Thursday, January 25, 2001

Domestic-abuse victims
get free cell phones

By Lisa Asato

Victims of domestic abuse will be able to phone a friend or police for free, thanks to a new program.

Wireless Foundation, Motorola Inc. and Sprint PCS Hawaii launched a statewide Call to Protect program that will place 195 wireless phones in the hands of domestic violence victims and their case managers. Phone recipients will receive 120 minutes of free airtime for calls within the state and a foldable, palm-sized phone weighing 4.2 ounces.

"We were reminded very recently what a serious problem domestic violence is in Hawaii through the murder of two young women," said Carol Lee, referring to the murders of two women by their ex-boyfriends. Lee is the executive director of the Hawaii State Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

She called the yearlong program "an additional layer of safety ... and protection."

The phones are pre-programmed to dial three numbers: 911 and either a crisis hotline, a case manager or a friend.

Ten domestic violence shelters and agencies will get from six to 40 phones.

Paige Demecilio, volunteer coordinator and trainer for Child and Family Service, said she didn't know how many phones her two shelters would receive, but they would look at the "emotional state of a client and lethality of the abuser."

Years ago, a client of hers was issued a phone in a similar program, she said. The client was pregnant and went to a doctor in the neighborhood where her abuser lived.

The client had a temporary restraining order, but the wireless phone "gave her more power in the equation," Demecilio said. But she warned, "It's not like a bulletproof vest."

In the past five years in Hawaii, about eight women a year lost their lives to domestic violence. Nationwide, an act of domestic violence occurs once every nine seconds, according to national statistics.

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