“Safe Berks stands with all domestic violence victims,” said Beth Garrigan, Safe Berks CEO. “The social distancing and family isolation required to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has increased the risk for victims of domestic violence. Many victims, adults and children, are trapped at home with violent abusers. Home is not a safe place for victims of domestic violence.”
Safe Berks staff stands with the family and friends of domestic violence victim Chad A. Macwilliam, 39, who was killed in his South Heidelberg Township home on Dec. 13, 2020, according to authorities and news reports.
A second Berks County man, whose name has not been released, was killed in his Exeter Township home on Dec. 14, 2020, according to authorities and news reports.
Safe Berks, formerly known as Berks Women in Crisis, serves all people who suffer from domestic violence and sexual assault, women, men, and people of all gender identities. “The name of our organization was changed to Safe Berks to make sure it is very clear that we serve all victims and survivors,” said Garrigan.
Throughout the COVID-19 health crisis, Safe Berks continues to provide free and confidential services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault 24 hours a day. All services are available in English and Spanish, and translation will be utilized for any other language needed. For crisis services, including requests for shelter or medical advocacy, call the 24-hour hotline at 844-789-SAFE (7233) or text SAFE BERKS to 20121. Anyone in immediate danger should call 911.
“Domestic violence can happen to anyone,” said Garrigan. “And right now the pressure on people just keeps increasing, due to the pandemic, lost jobs, the holidays, and the isolation people are feeling in their homes. We want people to know, we are here to help. Anytime, day or night, we are only a phone call away.”
Unfortunately, domestic violence is much more common than most people realize. Safe Berks serves thousands of survivors each year. According to Safe Berks records, 69 Berks County residents were killed by domestic violence between 1999 and October 2020. Two of those victims were killed since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Melissa Gonzalez-Torres, 37, was killed on May 18, 2020, in her residence on Robeson Street, Reading. Christina Blackburn, 23, of Boyertown, was killed on April 16, 2020, in Boyertown. Each October, Safe Berks honors and remembers local victims of domestic violence at our annual Silent Witness March & Dedication.
Red Flags of Domestic Violence and Abuse
It can be very difficult to acknowledge that you yourself, or someone you are close to, is experiencing relationship or family violence. Abusers go to great lengths to control their victim, their interactions, and everyday life. Common red flags of abuse include:
- Name calling or demeaning comments
- Someone that seems too good to be true early in a relationship; the relationship may advance very quickly
- Frequent phone calls or texts
- Threatens to harm or kill you, your pet(s) or family members
- Blames you for the abusive behavior; does not take responsibility for actions
- Prevents you from spending time with family or friends and from enjoying hobbies and other activities
- Damages your credit by exceeding limits, purposely not paying bills; may restrict your access to financial resources
Identifying abuse toward others
Knowing if someone you care about is in an abusive situation can be very difficult. However, there are some common warning signs:
- Their partner puts them down in front of other people
- They are constantly worried about making their partner angry
- They make excuses for their partner’s behavior
- Their partner is extremely jealous or possessive
- They have unexplained marks or injuries
- They’ve stopped spending time with friends and family
- They are depressed or anxious, or you notice changes in their personality
Abusers are skilled at using power and control over their victims, which can make leaving the situation difficult and dangerous. One of the best ways to help someone in abusive situation is to listen to them. Let them know you care and that free help is available. Help them understand that they are not responsible for, nor do they deserve the abuse. Encourage them to call 911 if they are in immediate danger, to seek the help of an advocate, or to contact Safe Berks, call our 24-hour hotline 844-789-SAFE (7233) or text SAFE BERKS to 20121.