A few months ago a small group of women banded together, came forward and accused noted film producer Harvey Weinstein of engaging in a long history of sexual harassment and rape.

Since then, more than 80 women in the motion picture industry have also accused Weinstein, while a growing list of high-profile men in show business, media and politics have faced similar allegations, leading to resignations and firings.

According to Patricia Teffenhart, the executive director of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the publicity surrounding these cases has sparked a significant increase in the number of New Jersey women reaching out for help.

“There has absolutely been an increase in call volume to our local county-based rape crisis centers. In fact, one of our county based agencies reported triple the number of calls that they’ve received over just the last six to eight weeks.”

She added, “I think it is just something really unprecedented. In the years I’ve been doing anti-violence work we’ve never seen quite the momentum we’re seeing right now, and it doesn’t seem to be letting up any time soon.”

Teffenhart said as the list of high-profile men accused of sexual harassment and sexual assault continues to grow, “more survivors are also coming forward to seek services and in many cases the county-based rape crisis centers are the first place where a victim or survivor might go to look for help.”

So why is this happening?

She said the shared experiences of victims and survivors are all very similar, and "other people are hearing those stories and they’re able to personally identify."

Teffenhart pointed out some victims may not have thought what happened to them was sexual violence or sexual harassment. “But now that I’m hearing the narrative play out more, I am actually realizing that what happened to me is in fact inappropriate, and in many instances a crime.”

She said what the Coalition Against Sexual Assault is focusing on now is follow-up action.

“Legislators are now beginning to introduce smart bills that will address systemic gaps in policy and law that will allow us to affirm lived experiences of survivors, but also to hold more perpetrators accountable.”

Teffenhart explained the term sexual violence “is a very good umbrella term that encompasses a wide range of behaviors from harassment all the way up to sexual assault and rape.”

New Jersey has a 24-7 confidential statewide hotline at 800-601-7200, which connects survivors to their nearest rape crisis center.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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