The Crime Victims Council of the Lehigh Valley (CVC) is an important nonprofit organization focused on providing essential services and support for local victims of crime.
The organization has been serving the Lehigh Valley since 1973, and all of its programs and services are confidential and free of charge. While the council offers comprehensive services for victims of all crimes, it serves a special purpose as the rape crisis center for Lehigh and Northampton counties.
Emily Grigonis, the organization’s Supervisor of Community Outreach and Educational Programming, says many people are not aware of the full extent of the services the council can provide victims of crime, as well as the community in general.
“I think people most commonly think of us as counseling and don’t always realize how in-depth our services are,” Grigonis said.
“The folks who have experiences with us, whether it’s a community member or a survivor, I think really recognize how empowering and survivor-focused we are,” she continued. “Whether it’s the counseling or going through the court system, I think one thing we’re known for is being present from start to finish.”
Crime Victims Council offers a variety of services including a 24-hour crisis hotline which is staffed by a trained counselor. Their individual and group counseling sessions are offered to victims of crime, or their families. CVC provides trained professional counselors, who provide their services both in the office as well as on-site at locations such as jails, schools and community centers.
“Counseling services are trauma-informed and counselors draw on a variety of modalities including narrative therapy, sensory trauma interventions, feminist therapy, mindfulness, psychodynamic theories and empirically-supported methods such as CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy),” CVC’s website reads.
The organization also participates in many community outreach events and awareness campaigns to start conversations within the community about topics such as domestic and child abuse. Grigonis plays an important role in the organization’s community outreach efforts, which include providing educational programs for age groups ranging from preschool to college.
“The trend has been for a lot of programs to be with K-12 schools and on college campuses, or with an already-identified community group, such as a church group,” Grigonis said.
Examples of the council’s educational outreach programs can be found on their website.
Crime Victims Council will also dispatch their advocates to hospitals if need be. If somebody goes to the emergency room as the victim of a sexual assault, a CVC advocate can meet with that person and help walk them through the process, provide them with support and let them know what their rights are, Grigonis said.
As a rape crisis center, CVC focuses on spreading their message to local law enforcement organizations and health care professionals, to help those groups put victims of crime in contact with the organization.
CVC provides police departments with boxes of brochures and information, so they can become educated on the services they provide and put crime victims in contact with staff.
Unlike other counties in Pennsylvania, Lehigh and Northampton counties have separate crisis centers for sexual violence and domestic abuse. CVC works closely with Turning Point of Lehigh Valley, which serves as the area’s domestic abuse crisis center.
“The benefit is that the two centers can work together to balance services,” Grigonis said. “Turning point has a shelter that they can emergency house people in, so if it is a more imminent situation we can call over to Turning Point and try to get somebody connected for something we can’t provide.”
As with many other businesses and organizations, COVID caused a brief slowdown to the council’s operations. Unfortunately the quarantine period meant many people were home more often with a potential abuser; a statistic which also made it harder for victims of crime to reach out to a place like the Crime Victims Council, Grigonis said.
She said that the number of hospital accompaniments also decreased during the initial COVID shutdown.
“The anxiety around going to the hospital during COVID and the potential exposure was a big factor, because we didn’t see a normal amount of that in the beginning,” she said.
Grigonis said that victims have begun reaching out more in recent weeks.
“As things have started to come back and people are getting back into work, our hotline has picked up again a little bit because people have that private space,” she said.
As the Supervisor of Community Outreach and Educational Programming, Grigonis expressed some concern over the organization’s ability to reach out to students who may be victims of crime with modified school schedules due to COVID.
“We usually talk to a lot of school students about a range of topics, and we’ll sometimes get disclosures from school students that they wouldn’t have made to just anybody in the school day unless the topic had been brought up,” Grigonis said.
COVID has also affected the council’s ability to host fundraisers and events, which they normally rely on for support.
“Our agency is grant-funded by a couple of different grants, which is great, but the grant funds are also usually restrictive,” Grigonis said. “So in the past we’ve always relied heavily on our fundraising money for things like counseling supplies.”
“Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to host a single fundraiser this year because of COVID,” she continued.
There are a variety of ways to support Crime Victims Council. Donations can be made directly to the organization from their website.
The organization has also partnered with Amazon’s Wishlist and Smile programs. Anyone interested in supporting the organization may purchase items from their Amazon Wishlist, which will then be donated directly to the council.
Amazon shoppers may also shop through Amazon’s Smile portal, in which portions of sales on eligible items can be donated to the organization.