The #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have exploded onto the national consciousness, exposing sexual predators in Hollywood, the media, and the United States government, and emboldening women to speak out and seek help.
It’s a pivotal moment for organizations like WomenRising, a safe place for women in crisis. Though headquartered in Jersey City, it serves all of Hudson County. In 1988, the YWCA of Bayonne and the YWCA of Jersey City merged to better serve the county.
“The rate of victimization has not gone up,” says Devan Tierney, WomenRising’s development and communication coordinator and a Bayonne resident. “However, interestingly enough, the rate of reporting has increased. Any time there is a public tragedy, or a celebrity or person of interest speaks up about their experience with sexual or domestic violence, we tend to see a rise in calls to our hotline. It is extremely beneficial for clients to see tangible proof that they are not the only ones impacted by violence of this sort and that it is OK to speak out.”
Bayonne resident Margaret Abrams is a Domestic Violence Response Team (DVRT) Coordinator at WomenRising, where she’s worked since 2005. Prior to that, she spent three years as a volunteer for DVRT, which she now leads.
“We’ve had victims of domestic violence contact us through email to build escape plans,” Abrams says.
“Maybe the perpetrator is leaving the house, and you only have a 20-minute time frame at 1 a.m.” The WomenRising website has a “safe exit” option, so that visitors can quickly switch pages if they don’t want to be spotted seeking help.
Abrams tells the story of one woman with whom she was communicating via email for weeks. The time between each email was nerve-wracking for Abrams. So was the thought that the responses might not be from the victim, but her abuser trying to get information about the escape plan after finding the emails on her phone.
One day, Abrams went to meet with a new client. “I had never seen this person or heard her voice, but as soon as she spoke her story, I knew who it was,” Abrams says. It was the woman she’d been exchanging emails with. “That woman was able to flee. She started a whole new life.”
Joaneileen Coughlan, the organization’s director of domestic violence services, says, “Margaret was a clear leader of the group. She always took initiative. Since then, Margaret has worked day and night to serve victims of domestic violence and WomenRising.”
For more than 110 years, WomenRising has provided counseling, 24/7 crisis intervention, workforce development, and permanent supportive housing. All services, which are free and confidential, help clients achieve self-sufficiency.
Behind Closed Doors
Abrams was inspired to do this work because she is a survivor of domestic violence. When she saw a story about WomenRising in her local paper in the early 2000s, she wanted to give back.
“When I was in an abusive relationship there were no opportunities like these,” she says, referring to WomenRising’s ever-growing list of services. “It happened behind closed doors. It was a very hush-hush issue.”
Abrams brings the issue to the forefront by facilitating teen dating anti-violence workshops at local schools and staffing tables at the Bayonne Hometown Fair, National Night Out, and other community events. These initiatives help break the isolation that abuse fosters, even if the victim isn’t ready to leave her batterer. “It allows the person going through it to know that there are services, and they are not alone,” Abrams says. “Even if the clients don’t ever make contact, they at least know that there’s an option. Just knowing the name WomenRising is making that connection.”
The next 50-hour volunteer-training course begins at the end of September at WomenRising’s Jersey City headquarters. “The DVRT process requires a certain level of dedication, but we work with the volunteers’ availability,” Abrams says. “Some people may say it takes a village to make a difference in others’ lives. I say it takes one domestic violence response team member to not only make a difference in the survivor’s life but for future generations, by offering the tools to end the cycle of violence.”
The DVRT informs victims of their rights and helps them make a safety plan, whether they decide to leave their abusers or not. Sometimes its most important service is simply listening without judgment.
Local events help to educate the community about domestic violence and to find supporters and volunteers, who work with Hudson County police departments. WomenRising has many volunteers from Bayonne, as well as a long list of sponsors, including Suez Bayonne, BCB, Garden State Community Bank, I.M.T.T, GCT Bayonne, The Little Food Cafe, Pizza Masters, Rocheny Photography, Hudacko’s, Delta Storage, Bayonne Market, GFWC Peninsula Women’s Club, Family Florist, Mayor Jimmy Davis, and Training for Warriors.
WomenRising has been running a domestic abuse support group in Bayonne for three years. Says Abrams, “It’s essential that clients access resources within their community.” —BLP
24-hour hotline: (201) 333-5700
WomenRising Newsletter: bit.ly/2ChUaSz
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