Since 1974 Elizabeth Freeman Center (EFC) has provided leadership and services to address domestic and sexual violence in Berkshire County. Every day, 24 hours a day, EFC confronts the life and death issues faced by people experiencing or affected by domestic abuse and sexual assault. We are the front line and major safety net in our community for victims seeking safety and a new life.
Elizabeth Freeman Center offers hope, help, and healing to all experiencing or affected by domestic and sexual violence through free, accessible, and confidential services in Berkshire County. We work to end the cycle of violence through community mobilization, advocacy, and education. Promoting social justice and working to end all forms of oppression are essential to our work.
In the name of Elizabeth Freeman and all who have struggled before us and for the sake of generations to come, Elizabeth Freeman Center envisions a world free from domestic and sexual violence in which all people live in safety, with dignity and justice.
· We believe that everyone should be able to live in safety, with dignity and justice, free from fear and oppression.
· We believe violent behavior is a choice. Abuse is not about “losing control,” it is a pattern of behavior one person uses to gain power and control over another person. This can include emotional, physical, sexual, and financial abuse, as well as isolation, intimidation, and bullying. Abuse can happen to anyone – rich, poor, old, young, rural, urban, of any race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, and background – and is deserved by no one.
· We believe violence cannot be separated from racism, sexism, homophobia, poverty, and other systemic forms of oppression that support violence and are maintained by it. We believe anti-violence work must by necessity be engaged in promoting social justice and ending all forms of oppression.
· We believe domestic and sexual violence should not be tolerated as a fact of life. These are patterns of behavior that could be prevented, if there were a will in society to end them. As a community, we all have the responsibility to help end domestic and sexual violence and the culture that perpetuates them. As individuals, we have the power to make this happen.
· We believe that everyone has the right to receive exceptional, holistic, accessible, confidential, trauma-informed, and free services for domestic and sexual violence. We offer services to anyone affected by domestic or sexual violence, including survivors of all ages, races, cultures, gender identities, sexual orientations, abilities, and income levels.
· We are survivor-centered. We believe everyone’s situation is different, and that survivors of violence know their situation best. We do not believe in telling survivors what to do, what to want, or how to proceed. We believe in offering concrete help whenever and as often as needed. We honor and respect each individual’s journey.
· Staff, board, and volunteers are at the core of Elizabeth Freeman Center. We value the experience, dedication, and commitment they bring to our work, many as survivors themselves. We offer openness to innovation and the opportunity and resources to do meaningful, impactful work. Because we are committed to working for economic and social justice for staff as well as clients, we believe in also offering staff: competitive salary, excellent benefits, engaged and dedicated colleagues, training and education in best practices, and career development opportunities.
· We rely on best practices and a continuous evaluation of our work to guide our growth and remain a leader in the movement to end domestic and sexual violence.
EFC represents the merger of two grass roots organizations: Women Services Center, which incorporated in 1974 to address domestic violence; and Rape Crisis Center, which incorporated in 1976 to address sexual assault. These two organizations combined in 1997 and adopted the name “Elizabeth Freeman Center,” in honor of a local hero who was born into slavery and successfully sued for her freedom. In 39 years, we’ve grown from small groups of dedicated volunteers working out of their cars and homes to become a county-wide presence with an array of services. We now have offices in North Adams, Pittsfield and Great Barrington with staff also sited in two police stations, three courts and Berkshire County Kids’ Place.
Need and Impact
The need for our services is great. In the United States:
More than 1 in 3 women (35.6%) and more than 1 in 4 men (28.5%) have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Limited data exist for other gender identities, but the rates of violence experienced by trans and gender non-conforming individuals appear to be at least as high.
Nearly 1 in 5 women (18.3%) and 1 in 71 men (1.4%) have been raped. 79.6% of female victims are raped before the age of 25; 42.2% are raped before the age of 18. 27.8% of male victims are raped before the age of 10. 64% of trans individuals have experienced sexual assault.
- Because abusers exploit power differentials, marginalized communities – including individuals who are people of color, LGBTQ, living with a disability, and/or immigrants – often experience higher rates of violence.
Domestic and sexual violence are not just “big city” problems – they are our problem:
- Berkshire County has a rate of restraining orders 37% higher than the state average.
- A state study of Massachusetts high school students found that youth in rural areas like ours suffer violence at higher rates than students in urban and suburban areas, with 31.5% vs. 21.6% reporting having been bullied at school, 11.9% vs. 10.5% reporting dating violence, and 12.5% vs. 10.3% reporting sexual contact against their will. It found that students who experienced dating violence or coerced sexual contact were 2-3 times more likely to report considering or attempting suicide, getting pregnant or getting someone pregnant, and more likely to fail in school.
We do not want our children living these statistics.
Each year, we serve close to 3,000 people from almost every city, town, and hamlet in Berkshire County. We receive between 1,200 and 1,500 hotline calls and 500-800 referrals from police departments. We shelter over 150 adults and children who are fleeing violence, help hundreds get protection orders in court, and provide counseling and advocacy to 1,300-1,500 adults and children. We have a dynamic violence prevention program, reaching almost 2,000 children and youth and partnering with area schools, child care centers and youth organizations. We work closely with others through community coalitions and groups and participate in over 60 community events and educational workshops each year, ranging from tabling at local fairs, to the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes community march against violence, to TV and radio shows, to presentations on our services to parent groups and hospital staff, to intensive trainings for professionals.
We are making a difference. From 2008 to 2012, we saw our rate of restraining orders by population steadily drop from 40% higher than the state average to 28%. That sounds like good news, and it is, but the other side of the story is that the number of restraining orders has not gone down here- we record 1,190 in 2012 compared to 937 in 2008- but our casualties to domestic violence have increased at a much slower pace than in most other parts of the state.
We know we have much work to do. And we know we can’t do this work alone. In spite of the incredible challenges of staggering violence within our community, stagnant resources and higher costs, we will charge ahead. We charge ahead with, and because of, a vision of a better world.