Sexual Assault Awareness Month – Why It’s Important

 

In observance of Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April, Haven recently spoke with Jen Ebersole, the Director of Education & Outreach at Safe Berks. 

 

1.  What is the history of Safe Berks?  How/when was it founded?

In 1976, twelve dedicated women met at the YWCA in Reading to begin the monumental task of providing services to women victims of domestic violence. They met to discuss the details of providing hotline, counseling and temporary housing services to victims. They were pioneers locally and statewide, as they sought to find solutions to end family violence and to help all victims. They attended the first meeting of the Pennsylvania Coalition against Domestic Violence held on November 12, 1976 in Lancaster and became one of the Coalition’s first members. They worked tirelessly, putting together the framework to make families safe, piece by piece. They pooled their resources and doggedly pursued the support of the greater Reading community. They did not give up and the community responded. Safe Berks, formerly Berks Women in Crisis, is the product of the inspirational leadership, determination and insight of our “Founding Mothers.” We owe them much more than a “thank you” or an award. We owe them honor, respect, and gratitude.

2.  What are the criteria for those you help? 

The services provided at Safe Berks are free and confidential to all people who experience domestic violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment or stalking. It does not matter what their income level is – insured, under-insured or no insurance at all. All are welcome to take advantage of our services at no charge. Information shared during any encounter with Safe Berks staff is kept private and confidential.

3.  What is the typical victim?

One of the most common misconceptions is that abuse is limited to certain genders or groups. Domestic and sexual violence occurs among people of all income levels, education levels, races, religions and ethnic backgrounds. These crimes occur in all types of neighborhoods, as well as on college campuses.  In a nut shell, domestic and sexual violence knows no boundaries.

Another misconception is that the victim did something to cause or trigger the abuse, which could not be further from fact. No one deserves to be abused, and the responsibility for these crimes is 100% with the abuser. This “blaming the victim” misconception is an additional assault to the victim, and is one of the factors that contribute to a victim’s choice to remain silent.

4.  What is your service area?  How far away do you serve?

Our services are available to all residents of Berks County. If someone lives outside of Berks County and comes to stay at our Safe House, we will not turn them away but we do make them aware that community resources following their stay with us will likely not be available because they live outside of Berks County.

5.  What are the statistics in the area of those suffering from domestic violence and sexual assault?

Unfortunately, these crimes are much more common than most people realize:

  • One in 4 women experience intimate partner violence (US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Women’s Health)
  • 1 in 3 women experience some type of sexual violence (US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Women’s Health)
  • Intimate partner violence is most common among women between the ages of 18-24 (Truman, J. L. & Morgan, R. E. (2014). Nonfatal domestic violence, 2003-2012)
  • Approximately 1 in 10 rape victims is male (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network)
  • 4 million children were the subjects of child abuse reports (U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services 2015 Child Maltreatment report)
  • 1,585 children were killed by their families or caregivers in the U.S. and 75% of these deaths by child abuse were children age 3 or younger (U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services 2015 Child Maltreatment report)

Safe Berks served more than 4,000 clients in the last fiscal year. Our Safe House provided a haven to approximately 400 adults and 400 children who were fleeing danger in the last fiscal year.

 6.  What services do you provide to the victim?

It is important to understand that all of the direct services we provide are 100% free (except a minimal fee for our Bridge Housing services) and confidential. Anyone – men, women and children – can access our services regardless of income. In addition, services are available to all victims, regardless of when the domestic or sexual violence occurred in their lifetime.

Safe House: An emergency shelter available for all victims and their dependents to stay for 30-60 days. Bi-lingual staff members are available to assist 24/7/365 with daily needs. Staff counselors are on-site to provide trauma-informed counseling services, a children’s advocate for counseling and planned activities, and group meetings. During the victim’s stay, advocates assist them in finding permanent or transitional housing, job opportunities and other community resources to assist the victim after their stay with us.

Bridge Housing: Housing is available for up to six families for a period of three to six months for a minimal monthly fee. Staff is also available to assist with daily needs, in addition helping to find housing and other community needs after their stay.

Counseling Services:  The Counseling Department provides bilingual free and confidential trauma-informed empowerment supportive counseling sessions for victims, survivors and/or significant others and child victims. They assist in developing a safety plan if necessary, in addition to solution-focused strategies to achieve their self-determined goals and objectives. Through our trauma-informed empowerment counseling and advocacy services, the Counseling Department helps survivors and their loved ones process and manage the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors resulting from abuse.

 Legal Services:  Attorneys and legal advocates provide free and confidential legal services to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking. Specifically, they assist with filing of Protection From Abuse (PFA) Orders, Sexual Violence Protections Orders (SVPO), or Protection From Intimidation (PFI) Orders, representation for final hearings of PFAs and SVPOs, accompaniment to police interviews and criminal hearings. The Legal Department also offers support and assistance to college students in Berks County who are dealing with issues including sexual assault, stalking or dating violence

7.  How often do victims return after another encounter?

On average, a woman will leave an abusive relationship seven times before she leaves for good.  It’s easy for someone to say to the victim, “Just leave!” What many people don’t realize is that there are so many compounding factors that go into making the decision to leave, for good (children, financial, culture, religion, pets, hope for change, threats of suicide or harming oneself or other loved ones, etc). Often times, leaving escalates violence from the abusive person to recapture the victim and children who sought safety in separation. In many cases we’ve seen right here in Berks County, the end result of leaving was lethal.

8.  Tell me a little about you and how you came to be at Safe Berks.

My background is in government relations, working for the legislative and executive branches of Pennsylvania government, in addition to a national non-profit health organization. The majority of my professional career has been spent working in the public health prevention field, advocating for public policy change.  Violence – which includes domestic and sexual – is preventable and it starts with educating our youth about personal boundaries, acceptance of others, healthy relationships, teen-dating violence and social justice issues! The Education and Outreach Department at Safe Berks has the tall order of carrying out these initiatives, which is what drew me to Safe Berks and why I’m proud to be working among our amazing Team that makes up the Education and Outreach Department.

 9.  Any other information that you would like to get out about Safe Berks?

In addition to providing the above-mentioned direct client services, the Education and Outreach Department at Safe Berks offers education and awareness programs as well as a curriculum of presentations that address the prevention of dating violence, sexual harassment and sexual assault to the community and within Berks County schools. Working to prevent victimization, rather than focusing solely on intervention after it occurs, may eventually save a generation of individuals from the long-term impacts of this violence, including physical injury, trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, chronic physical and mental health issues, poverty, homelessness, and others. Raising awareness of domestic violence and sexual assault in the community builds empathy and support for victims and survivors, sends the message to victims and survivors that they are not alone, and builds community knowledge of our services and resources.

Upcoming Events/Programs:

WHAT: Walk for No More: Together We Can End Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault

WHEN: June 16, 2018

WHERE: Kickoff of Art on the Avenue in West Reading.

DESCRIPTION: The event is a fundraising and awareness/outreach event for Safe Berks.

CONTACT: Mindy McIntosh at [email protected] for more information

 

WHAT: Camp Safe Berks

WHEN: July 23-27, 2018

WHERE:  Albright College

DESCRIPTION: A Teen Alliance for Social Justice week-long summer day camp that addresses social justice issues as the roots of violence in our society, and as precursors to dating violence, sexual harassment and assault, and other forms of oppression. The program includes youth meet-ups throughout the year, and support for specific projects such as “Camp Safe Berks” social activist clubs in high schools, and support of Gay-Straight Alliances and other social justice-themed clubs.

CONTACT: Jen Ebersole at [email protected]

 

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