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NOVA marks 50 years; “envisions a society free of violence”


From its 1974 origins as Women Organized Against Rape, to today’s Network of Victim Assistance, the nonprofit has spent the past five decades supporting and empowering victims of violence in Bucks County.

“NOVA started with four women around a dining room table,” said Penny Ettinger, the organization’s executive director, during a recent meeting to discuss all the Warwick-based agency is accomplishing.

Over the course of its 50-year history, she said, NOVA has served more than 100,000 victims of violence, while offering a wide range of training, advocacy, education and prevention programs.

Ettinger credited “the expertise of the staff, which has always been ahead of the game. Our team is always looking forward.”

While it was and continues to be the only rape crisis center in Bucks County, NOVA is now the comprehensive victim services organization that, in 2023, assisted 3,374 victim helpline callers, provided free services to more than 2,500 clients and provided education and prevention programs to nearly 30,000, according to the organization.

Its Children’s Advocacy Center served 360 children and their families, an increase of 25% from 2022.

“These are children going through the most horrific times in their lives,” said CAC coordinator Alison Rose.

Through carefully considered interviews, Roxy therapy dogs and other measures, the CAC works to protect a child’s interests when responding to child abuse reports.

“We go at their pace…in their own words, in their own time,” Rose said. “We provide a safe place for them to tell their story.”

NOVA staff provides educational programs to schools and community organizations, with a goal of “less violence down the road,” said Michelle Cash, the organization’s director of development.

For 24 years, NOVA’s director of prevention and training, Mary Worthingon, has promoted the agency’s message of “the right to be safe,” in particular the rights of children, the most vulnerable population.

Last year, the agency said, 56% of its clients were victims of sexual assault. Of those, 49% were children under the age of 18.

Through NOVA’s Upstanders program, children and all community members learn how to speak up when they see bullying and abusive behavior.

Through its Keystone Crisis Intervention Team, NOVA professionals can respond to any Pennsylvania community that experiences a major crime, offering counseling and other support services.

While much has remained the same in “the human experience” of violence over the past 50 years, some things have changed, said NOVA staff.

Sextortion, where perpetrators use sexually explicit photos to coerce victims, has increased, as have a wide range of other internet crimes.

The agency has seen an increase in elder abuse cases, often involving financial scams, and the number of homicides it encounters. Where there was typically one homicide case in a year, now there may be three of four, staff said.

On the positive side, Ettinger noted, there has been some improvement in laws, including the expansion of the statute of limitations and mandated reporting laws. Enhanced education on recognizing signs of abuse has led to greater awareness on the part of teachers, coaches and other adults, she said. Today, 84% of the reports NOVA receives come from teachers and coaches.

NOVA remains “relentlessly mission-focused,” said Cash, to “support, counsel and empower” Bucks County crime victims, as well as “prevent and eliminate violence in society.”

NOVA plans to celebrate its 50th anniversary with a black tie-optional gala on April 19 at Spring Mill Manor in Northampton Township.

Dubbed “A Starlit Evening,” the event will include a beer and wine bar, four-course dinner, curated silent auction, live music and dancing. It’s expected to be the nonprofit’s biggest fundraiser of the year, with a goal of generating $300,000 to support NOVA’s programs. More information can be found at

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