A Day In The Life At STSM

Melanie Snipes is the Director of Crisis Services at STSM. Melanie started at STSM in 2008 as the Sexual Assault Services Coordinator and also served as the Group Services Coordinator before being promoted to the DCS position. Melanie obtained her Master's in Social Work from the University of South Carolina and received her Bachelor’s in Sociology from Lander University in Greenwood, SC. 

Where to begin? A day in the life of myself, an advocate, a member of the Crisis and Clinical team who provides direct service and a supervisor can look many different ways. One particular day this month began at 2:27am when I received a call on the 24 hour hotline requesting my presence at Tuomey Medical Center in Sumter. A young female had been accompanied by law enforcement and they needed an advocate from STSM to respond to the hospital. Now- I must confess, when these calls come in I do not immediately spring into action, it takes me a few minutes to rouse myself into a state of comprehension of events. I then throw on some clothes, brush my teeth (a MUST) and hop in the car for the hour and fifteen minute drive to Tuomey. Once I arrive I am ushered back to her room where I then stay with the survivor throughout the evidence being collected (also known as a rape kit) and any care that she receives while working with the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) who is trained specifically to care for these patients. After the evidence was collected and the care provided, I retrieved her some new clothes as hers were taken as part of the evidence. This survivor was also in need of housing and shelter assistance so I called a variety of places until a location was found. I worked with law enforcement to ensure her a safe ride to the shelter.

After the survivor left the hospital I went to STSM’s Sumter office where I tried to take a quick nap before my 9, 10 and 11am appointments. Two of these clients were in a state of crisis and I did not want to reschedule them due to the pressing needs they had. One assailant lives close to the survivor so she was afraid to run into him. The other survivor had a recent encounter with a family member which had been physically threatening. These clients presented a variety of different ways: one is an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse, one is a survivor of a more recent sexual assault, and the last client has special needs and was sexually abused repeatedly throughout childhood and numerous times as an adult as well. My first attempt at a nap was not successful and even though I was wide awake for my first three appointments, my energy was quickly zapped. I had to reschedule my other appointments at our Columbia office for the next day. I needed to take the remainder of the afternoon off to catch up on some rest and take care of myself so that I would be ready for my duties the next day. 

Our direct service staff, of which I am a member, wear many hats at the agency. We respond to the 8 area hospitals to advocate for survivors, answer the 24hr hotline, provide both crisis intervention and individual counseling as well as group therapy. Our days may look very different from a Monday to a Tuesday. I suppose the most typical day would be arriving to the office and preparing to see clients for the day. This would entail a wide variety of clients with a variety of needs, as each client will present differently. Some may have concerns about their safety, others will be frustrated with sleep disturbances, and others may worry they will never have a healthy relationship with either a significant other, family member or a friend.  In between clients there is time for paperwork, mandated reports of abuse, answering the 24hr hotline or the regular office line (we do not have an administrative assistant and all staff answer the phone), returning calls to clients or following up with another provider or referral source.

Now, what may happen after 5pm? At 5pm we switch the phones in our office so it rings to the ever gracious volunteer operators at Palmetto Health. The operators connect the staff member or volunteer advocate on call to any survivors who call the hotline as well as calls from the local hospitals. A hotline call may last anywhere from a few to fifteen minutes and someone could be calling for a variety of reasons: a mother who is concerned about her child’s behavior, someone who was just raped wants to know about her options, a male calling because he was sexually abused as a child and is curious about services available, or a grandparent calling as they recently gained custody of a grandchild who was sexually abused by a family member in their home and the grandparent is seeking answers on how to be supportive. A call to the hospital can last anywhere from 3-12 hours depending on the extent of the survivor’s injuries or if there are multiple cases of sexual assault that need a forensic evidence collection kit.

Like many people, before beginning my work with STSM – I had no clue that sexual violence was such a pandemic in the Midlands. I had been blessed to have had limited exposure to this particular type of horrible violence outside of classroom discussions within my Master’s of Social Work program and limited media coverage. Sure, I knew that I needed to guard my drinks when I went out to a bar, I should be vigilant of my surroundings and mom always said to never go home with a stranger. But that this crime happens most often by someone that you know? That I should have been much more worried and concerned that a family member, a friend or a work acquaintance could assault me? How much it impacts survivors as WELL as their families and friends? I have now been with the agency for 6 years and I must share – no two days are exactly alike. And I must not forget our dedication to self-care within our day, as often the content of our work can in itself be incredibly emotionally taxing. Staff at STSM, when available; eat together in our kitchen which was lovingly decorated by the Junior League of Columbia. It is here that we laugh, catch up on our weekends, have discussions about a variety of things such as the merits of John Candy films, shark attacks at Folly Beach, or the possible explanations for yet another Lindsay Lohan meltdown. This assists all of us in taking a moment from the work we do so passionately so that we can continue to get up the next day and do it all over again.