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Advocates in A.C. to start support group for survivors of sexual abuse

Breaking the Cycle: Domestic Violence Awareness Conference

Valeria Marcus tells her story of growing up in fear of violence at the hands of her father at the Breaking the Cycle: Domestic Violence Awareness Conference.

The conference was presented by the Superior Courts of Atlantic and Cape May Counties on Monday. Monday, July 16

ATLANTIC CITY — Aiming to help give people in the area a safe space to heal, advocates are starting an effort in the city to support those who are survivors of sexual assault.

Called A Safe Place support group, the organizers are working together to host a once-a-month group to help people learn and heal from past sexual abuse.

“What we’re doing through this program … is to try to help them heal, try to help them heal from past hurt, from past scars,” said Raymond Hollis, who works as the social services coordinator for nonprofit Better Tomorrows. “Emotional scars are some of the most tough to deal with.”

The first meeting will be held 3 to 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Brigantine Homes community room, 1062 Brigantine Blvd. in Atlantic City.

The plan is to hold the meetings monthly, organizers said.

City resident and advocate Valeria Marcus came up with the initiative to expand into the community from another group that convenes at Asbury United Methodist Church in Atlantic City.

She connected with Avanzar, formerly the Women’s Center in Atlantic County, to find a host for the support group, along with Hollis, who will host it at Brigantine Homes — one of the communities he works in.

Marcus, a survivor of child sexual abuse and domestic violence, has studied the effects of abuse and has since been speaking about it at churches and seminars.

“Everything in the group will remain in the group,” Marcus said. “We know a lot of people secretly don’t want to acknowledge it.”

One in three women and one in six men in the country experienced some form of sexual violence in their lifetime, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

Hollis works with Brigantine Homes and 2720 Fire Road apartments in Egg Harbor Township and said he hears about all types of violence in the neighborhoods he works in, but recently he’s heard more about emotional abuse.

In May, he held a domestic violence seminar for the Atlantic City community called Love Doesn’t Hurt and said he wanted to expand on it.

This is one way to begin speaking out against it, he said.

“I saw it as another opportunity to reach out to the community,” he said. “Not just women, but men as well.”

A representative from Avanzar will come to the group on Wednesday to discuss resources and support, organizers said. The group is free and open to people not only in Atlantic City, but in the surrounding area.

Marcus also mentioned this group is particularly relevant in today’s society, specifically with the #MeToo movement with prominent women and men coming forward with their own stories of sexual misconduct.

“We need to do our part,” she said.

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