hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


Arts & Culture October 2017


Photos for a cause

Exhibit benefits center for survivors of domestic violence, sexual abuse


Susan Sabino’s photo “Rolling Clouds” is among the works she’ll exhibit this month at Stockbridge Coffee & Tea to benefit the Elizabeth Freeman Center, the Berkshire County organization that aids survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse.  Courtesy Susan SabinoSusan Sabino’s photo “Rolling Clouds” is among the works she’ll exhibit this month at Stockbridge Coffee & Tea to benefit the Elizabeth Freeman Center, the Berkshire County organization that aids survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse.  Courtesy Susan Sabino


Contributing writer


A photography exhibit this month in Stockbridge will raise funds for a regional organization that helps people affected by domestic violence and sexual abuse.

“Finding Grace,” an exhibit of works by Berkshires-based photographer Susan Sabino, is among several events planned around Berkshire County in October in observance of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The show will benefit the Elizabeth Freeman Center, the primary organization that addresses domestic and sexual abuse and violence throughout Berkshire County.

Sabino’s photography has been shown in many solo and group shows in the Berkshires and New York state, and she is an active member of regional arts organizations. She also works as a freelance photojournalist for the Hill Country Observer. This month’s show will focus on her landscape photography.

“Finding Grace” will be on display throughout the month at Stockbridge Coffee & Tea, at 6 Elm St. in Stockbridge. Forty percent of proceeds from sales of the photographs will be contributed to the Elizabeth Freeman Center, which has offices in Pittsfield, North Adams and Great Barrington. A free public reception will also be held at Stockbridge Coffee & Tea from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 22, with representatives of the center available to answer questions.

The Elizabeth Freeman Center provides emergency aid, shelter, counseling, education and other services to people affected by sexual abuse and domestic violence. Beyond Berkshire County, it also serves people in adjacent New York and Vermont when it is the nearest source of services.
“We are the region’s response center for domestic and sexual abuse and violence,” said B (Becca) Bradburd, the center’s director of operations and communications.

Bradburd said the center, which serves more than 2,000 people annually, is trying to increase awareness of the scope of its services.

“We’re here for everyone,” Bradburd said. “Abuse and assault can occur in any type of relationship. In addition to women, we also work with male survivors, people in LGBTQ relationships, children and other family members.”

The center is an independent nonprofit organization supported by local, state and federal funding and contributions from the community. Its services are confidential and free of charge.

In addition to services to individuals, the center also works to end violence through community mobilization, advocacy and education. It offers programs on related subjects, collaborates with other organizations, and addresses youth violence through school programs.

In its mission statement, the center says that “promoting social justice and working to end all forms of oppression are essential to our work.”

One of its more prominent public events is Walk A Mile, a large annual fund-raiser and march to raise awareness about preventing rape, sexual assault and gender violence. During the march, held most recently in September, large crowds of men, women and children parade up North Street in Pittsfield as part of the city’s Third Thursday downtown street fair. Many male participants wear women’s high-heel shoes as a show of solidarity.

Bradburd said the Elizabeth Freeman Center is planning a variety of activities and events related to Domestic Violence Awareness Month. These will be announced on the center’s Facebook page and elsewhere as the details are finalized.

(Congress designated October as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month in 1989; the event evolved from an annual “Day of Unity” first organized in 1981 by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.)


Celebrating ‘the good in the world’
Sabino said she organized her new photo exhibit with the goal of supporting the Elizabeth Freeman Center in appreciation for help it provided her in a situation involving domestic abuse.
“The Freeman Center literally saves lives,” Sabino said. “As a survivor, I know how vital it is. Domestic abuse and violence is a major problem that affects many people. Those who are in an abusive relationship often feel alone and don’t know what to do or where to turn. With this show, I want to raise awareness of the issue and to let people know that help is available.”

Sabino said photography for her is a way of connecting and communicating.
“It’s the way I interact most comfortably with other people and the world,” she said. “With photographs, I can share what I see and communicate it.”

She said she chose to focus on her landscape photography in the current show to convey a sense of hope and renewal. The display will include quotes relating that theme to the photographs, along with information about the issue of domestic violence.

“In my photography, I look for the beauty and the good in the world,” Sabino said. “I call this show ‘Finding Grace’ to express the fact that, with help, it is possible to move beyond the trauma of abuse and find a sense of grace again.”


A pathway to freedom
The Elizabeth Freeman Center originated as two separate organizations: the Women Services Center, founded in 1974, and the Rape Crisis Center, established in 1976. The two merged in 1997. The resulting center is named for a local historical figure, Elizabeth “Mumbet” Freeman, an African American slave in southern Berkshire County who in 1780 successfully sued her owner to obtain her freedom.

The center’s main office is located in a converted house at 43 Francis Ave. in Pittsfield. It also has offices at 61 Main St., Suite 202, in North Adams and 168 Main St., Suite 4, in Great Barrington. It offers safe shelter at an undisclosed location.

The center has representatives in local police departments and at Berkshire County Kids’ Place. The Freeman Center also responds to emergencies on site and meets with people at hospitals, shelters or other safe locations. People who need help can contact the center in person at its offices or by calling its 24-hour telephone hotline, 866-401-2425.

“In rural areas, transportation is an issue, so we make it a point to be accessible throughout the county,” Bradburd said.

The center has a staff of 45 people who work full or part time (a combined equivalent of 36 full-time positions), and the staff is augmented by a team of about 20 trained volunteers.

The center provides many forms of assistance and advocacy. People who contact the center in a critical situation involving actual or potential physical assault receive immediate help with emergency shelter, food and transportation for the survivor, children and pets.

“The first priority is always to ensure the safety of the person and their families,” Bradburd said.
The center also provides follow-up counseling and helps people develop plans to protect their safety. It connects survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse with resources and referrals for income support, financial planning, medical care, education and training and other practical needs.

The center also links survivors with legal services to help arrange for restraining orders and other related criminal or civil actions. And it works with the Berkshire County Sheriff’s Office on supervised visitation programs to ensure the safety of children and survivors.

The center has counselors who have special training and experience in immigration issues. It also has counselors and support groups for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender clients.


Breaking cycles of abuse
In addition to handling emergencies involving actual or threatened violence, the center works with people with concerns about relationship issues that fall short of outright violence. Bradburd explained that abuse takes many forms, such as when one person attempts to control, humiliate and hurt another.

“We don’t only define domestic abuse and violence in physical terms,” Bradburd said. “There is also emotional abuse, even when physical violence has not yet occurred.”

There are certain benchmarks that distinguish abusive relationships.

“The main characteristic of an abusive relationship is when one person is attempting to exert power over another person,” Bradburd said. “That can be through psychological manipulation, disrespecting personal boundaries, limiting the person’s outside contacts, preventing access to money, and other controlling behavior.”

Often the abuse follows cyclical patterns.

“It begins with a wooing period when everything is hearts and flowers,” Bradburd said. “Then the abusive behavior begins, and tension escalates to some form of violent outburst. That is followed by expressions of remorse. Then there is another wooing period, and the cycle continues.”

Popular culture sends mixed messages about some forms of abusive behavior, which can add to the uncertainty of a person in an abusive relationship.

“It can be hard to sort out if society tells you something is OK but you feel it’s wrong,” Bradburd said. “For example, extreme jealously is one form of abuse. But jealousy is sometimes glorified in popular culture as a sign of love.”

Bradburd said the Freeman center is available to anyone who is looking for information and support to help them evaluate their situation and find solutions. The center’s principle is to recognize that different solutions are right for different people at different times. The center’s staff and volunteers provide information and offer concrete help but leave it up to each client to decide what they want to do, and how to proceed.

“We encourage everyone with concerns to contact us,” Bradburd said.

For more information about the Elizabeth Freeman Center, visit www.elizabethfreemancenter.org or call (413) 499-2425.