It was on Christmas Eve 46 years ago that A Woman’s Place received its first client – a woman seeking safety for herself, and her two children.
Since that time, Bucks County’s only domestic violence organization has aided and informed thousands via its safe house, hotline, counseling, education, and legal services. In the past year alone, AWP has served more than 2,200 people who have been victimized by domestic violence.
During the holiday season the number of domestic abuse cases typically rises, said Marianne Lynch, executive director of A Woman’s Place. “The holidays are stressful, and that can kind of escalate some of the problems already there in a relationship,” she said.
Lynch said drugs and alcohol can exacerbate problems, and family and friends who have gathered to celebrate might see unhealthy signs in the relationship of a loved one.
Among the signs of emotional or physical abuse, Lynch said, are the way the couple talks to one another, such as correcting or belittling; outbursts of anger and name-calling; and physical signs, such as bruising, although often that occurs in places that can’t be seen by others, such as under clothing. Another sign that a friend or family member may be subject to abuse, she added, is isolation by a partner who does not allow them to attend a holiday gathering.
“If you see something, pass along our number. We can be a life-saving resource for people this time of year,” Lynch said.
The free, private and confidential AWP hotline – 1-800-220-8116 – is staffed seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. “I would like people to know we are always a resource,” Lynch said. “We don’t take a holiday from domestic violence.”
AWP’s safe house, which offers shelter to women and children – men who need shelter are housed in a separate location – has seven bedrooms, a community living room, and a kitchen where clients can cook for themselves and their children. It is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
With as many as 20 children staying there at one time, Lynch said, “it can become a houseful.”
“Our safe house is full at the moment,” Lynch said during a recent interview. “We are typically full at this time of year.” She added that when the house is full, and additional housing is needed, AWP can rely on a network of providers in other counties.
“We will work with sister organizations to help people in need,” she said. “Those in imminent danger are our first priority.”
Last year, she said, AWP provided almost 9,000 bed nights of shelter to those in need. “That was pretty high for us,” she added. AWP provides shelter for 52 adults and 50 to 60 children per year, on average, she said. Prior to the pandemic, Lynch said, AWP’s hotline received 3,500 calls a year, and during the pandemic that number rose approximately 40 percent to 6,000 calls a year. Currently, the hotline receives approximately 4,400 calls a year.
“The situations we’re dealing with are far more complex (now),” Lynch said, and they often include children, mental health issues and drug and alcohol abuse. “There’s definitely been a spike in mental health” issues, she said.
The cost of providing shelter is approximately $100 per night, per individual, Lynch said. AWP’s current fundraising campaign is asking people to give the gift of $100 for a night’s shelter, if possible, in an attempt to raise $20,000 for 200 nights of shelter.
“Anything people can do to help support our mission” is appreciated, Lynch said. “The community is fantastic, and the support they’ve given us has been fantastic.”
To make a donation, or to find ways to help AWP by volunteering, visit awomansplace.org.