Each flag represents a new victim of sexual or domestic assault in the Berkshires.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — There were 345 flags in Park Square on Thursday, with each one representing a new local victim of domestic and sexual violence.
The Elizabeth Freeman Center placed one flag per new disclosure of sexual or domestic violence in 2018. And those are only the victims that received services from the organization.
The flags, coupled with a rally in the city's center, were intended to demonstrate the issue and the services the center provides.
"April is sexual assault awareness month so each year we put out flags for our survivors that we served the previous year. There are 345 flags out this year and we are just doing a rally to provide some support and knowledge about our services," said Heather Marshall, who runs the homelessness response program for the Elizabeth Freeman Center.
The rally has been an annual thing and Marshall hopes that it raises awareness of the services the non-profit provides.
"We are located in Great Barrington, Pittsfield, and North Adams. We provide services throughout Berkshire County. Our services are all free and confidential. We provide anything from emergency shelter to counseling and support services, financial advocacy, we've got a disability justice advocate now, we provide services for children who are exposed to domestic violence," Marshall said.
"There is really there not a part of the community we do not touch because sexual and domestic violence is so prevalent and hits anybody and everyone."
The organization is also flying 345 flags on the front lawn of its headquarters for the entire month. Marshall said the issue is a big one for the county that has included murders in recent years and added that no one is immune from domestic or sexual violence.
"We see trends with different movements like the 'Me Too' movement and things just around the world that happen kind of spark up and downs. But I think it is just something that needs to be talked about so much. We need to normalize the fact that it could happen to anyone at any time and that our services are here to provide support for anybody who needs it," Marshall said.
When it does happen, many don't know how to best approach a victim and speak to them, according to Lisa McCue. McCue serves as the Berkshire County district attorney's director of the victim-witness unit. She said her goal is to raise awareness of how to understand a victim.
The attendance at the rally ebbed and flowed but those from the Freeman Center stayed throughout the two-hour rally.
"It is always a challenge to educate the community on how to respond to victims in a trauma-informed way, particularly domestic violence and sexual assault victims. That is really important to us moving forward and we are hoping to connect with the community and educate them about what a trauma-informed response looks like," McCue said.
McCue hopes to raise more awareness of what the experience is like for a victim in all areas of the community. She and many others from the district attorney's office joined the rally on a windy day to show support.
"We appreciate our partnership with the Elizabeth Freeman Center and we wanted to come out and support them, help them raise awareness," McCue said.
The district attorney's office has partnerships with a number of service organizations. McCue said it is her job to work with the victims, make them aware of the "victim's bill of rights," connect them with the services they need, and help them navigate the criminal justice system. McCue has been in the business for 12 years and only recently moved up to the director's role.
"I really wanted to be able to help other victims heal and understand the criminal justice system. That's why I am here. I love my job and I love helping victims through the system," McCue said.
Sexual Assault Awareness Month is a national campaign with events throughout the entire nation.
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