ROCHELLE PARK, New Jersey (WABC) -- Domestic violence incidents have increased during COVID and during the first month of the pandemic, the call lines went silent at a help center in Bergen County when it was assumed they were closed.
The Center for Hope and Safety then put out word they were open and calls for help flooded in like never before.
"I am here to dispel any stereotypes you may have about what a battered woman looks like -- because she looks like me," abuse survivor Sheila Bernstein said.
Bernstein is now safe and thriving as a community educator on domestic violence at the Center for Hope and Safety, where calls during COVID increased 46% as people were isolated at home and stuck with their abusers.
"I can say I was surprised, I felt relief they were connecting with help that they needed," said director Julye Myner.
The center answers calls for help every single day and moves people to safe homes. Their 24/7 hotline can be reached at 201-944-9600.
Right now they are helping 163 people with safe housing -- including 88 women, 72 children, most under the age of 5, and three men.
They are also currently helping 500 others with resources, therapy and legal aid.
"We've had women with children in tow call from public places saying I cannot go back to my home, how can I get to you?" Myner said.
They go and get them.
Bernstein said anyone who is being abused needs to know it is not their fault. And she also had advice for those worried about loved ones.
"It's important to believe them, keep listening, keep that communication open, and then educate," Bernstein said. "Educate yourself, the center has a very extensive website."
The center offers everything from clothing, toiletries, food and therapy. They even free legal services to get things like restraining orders.
"We help them rebuild their lives," Myner said.
Sadly, lately they have never been needed more.
If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224.
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