‘NOVA changed my life’: Bucks County organization marks 50 years of serving victims of crime

In the past 50 years, NOVA has served over 100,000 victims of serious crimes or their family members in Bucks County.

Listen 1:11
Penelope Ettinger outside NOVA

Penelope Ettinger is the executive director of Network of Victim Assistance in Bucks County. The organization is marking 50 years of serving victims of crime in Bucks County. (Emily Neil/WHYY)

What to know about NOVA

  • NOVA serves Bucks County residents who are victims of crime, or victims of a crime that occurred in the county
  • You can reach out to NOVA to learn more about their no-cost services via:
  • NOVA keeps all personal and medical information confidential, except in the case of situations involving children that fall under mandated reporting guidelines

Ashley Klein realized she had a pattern of relationship issues stemming from the sexual abuse she endured as a child. In 2022, she sought help.

Of the several places she called, the Network of Victim Assistance in Bucks County, or NOVA, got back to her right away and told her she could access their services at no cost — and without going through a criminal justice process.

“When they said victims of crime … I’m like, ‘Okay, do I have to prove that I went through any criminal verification, any sort of thing like that?’” Klein said. “They basically just went off of my word. And so that was relieving.”

NOVA has served victims of crime who live in Bucks County, or victims of crimes committed in Bucks County, for half a century. Founded as Women Organized Against Rape (WOAR) in 1974, the organization was originally focused on victims of sexual assault and strove to educate the judicial system about sexual violence. By the early ‘80s, NOVA expanded its reach to provide services for all victims of serious crime in the county under its current name.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Penelope Ettinger, executive director of NOVA, said the organization has stayed true to its mission to serve victims of crime — and to be a support for victims of sexual assault in the legal system, if they decide to press charges. Ettinger stressed that a victim of a crime does not have to have filed a police report or pursue a criminal charge in order to access their services.

To date, NOVA has served over 100,000 victims of serious crimes or their family members. The organization has also educated more than 800,000 children and adults through their prevention programs, focused on empowering people to protect themselves and loved ones from crimes. Currently, NOVA runs prevention programs in all of the county’s school districts, as well as some private schools, which they tailor to fit the school’s needs and requests.

“I would say to the public, that if you have been the victim of a crime, or you’ve been hurt in any way by another person, you can call our hotline,” Ettinger said, stressing that, as in Klein’s case, victims of crimes that occurred years or even decades ago are eligible to get help at NOVA.

An important piece of NOVA’s support of sexual assault victims is their forensic nursing program. Nurses in the program can conduct exams and record evidence for victims of sexual assault or non-fatal strangulation who call their helpline. The nurses also go to the five hospitals in the county that are partnered with the organization and offer their services at A Woman’s Place, a Bucks County nonprofit serving victims of domestic violence.

“I think the collaboration that we have with the District Attorney’s Office and local law enforcement, and the respect the organization has, is absolutely seen by the judicial system in our county as well,” Ettinger said.

Ettinger stressed that the decision to pursue charges in the case of a sexual assault or non-fatal strangulation lies with the victim.

“We are there to support you as a victim,” she said. “We’re there to give you the information and to empower you, and you’re making the decision. You can have a sexual assault exam done, and it’s anonymous until that point in time that you may want … to go ahead with an investigation.”

For Klein, the 10 months of treatment she received at NOVA “changed [her] life.”

“I’m 36 years old. And for the first time, after receiving services with NOVA, I was finally able to open up to my parents, who I’ve been very close with my entire life, and tell them what happened to me as a kid,” Klein said. “And that was one of the biggest things that I could never do … That is a long time to hold on to something from people that you love.”

“The services that I was provided with NOVA gave me, honestly, if I could just wrap it up in one word, freedom. Definitely freedom. I feel like I can live now,” Klein said.

‘They’re there at the very beginning’

Ettinger said over the past several years, NOVA has also been treating more people impacted by homicides — many of which were connected to firearms.

In those cases, victim advocates play an important role in assisting surviving family members and witnesses as they navigate the criminal justice system.

“Our victim advocates are often called by the district attorney, or the leading law enforcement agency, local law enforcement agency, to come out and be at the police station, or wherever they’re gathering, for the survivors,” Ettinger said. “So they’re there at the very beginning.”

In crimes that have a wide community impact, NOVA leads a special statewide program, called the Keystone Crisis Intervention Team, or KCIT, that assists community members in processing their trauma long after the cameras have gone. At the request of community members, KCIT-trained volunteers will come to any community in Pennsylvania that has recently suffered a crime and provide crisis intervention programming and coping skills for trauma. The team does about 14 deployments per year.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“It’s really talking to them about trauma, what you’re feeling, validating those feelings, and providing resources,” Ettinger said.

Klein said anyone considering accessing services “deserve[s] a fighting chance.”

“You don’t have to fight it alone. NOVA makes it as simple as possible. And really, really confirms that you’re not alone through this process. The support was just endless.”

Klein said she understands firsthand how difficult it is to take the first step and then continue with treatment.

“This would be any sort of advice for someone who is terrified to go through with trauma therapy: Just stick with it. There were times when I was like, I don’t want to do this. But I just kept my feet moving. And it changed my life. NOVA changed my life. So worth every, every bit of time and effort,” she said.

If you live in Bucks County and are the victim of a crime, or have experienced a crime in Bucks County, you can reach out to NOVA to learn more about their services online, or by texting 267-323-4545; calling 1-800-675-6900; or emailing info@novabucks.org.

Get daily updates from WHYY News!

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal