Sexual Trauma Support Office Opens in Sumter

The following article appeared on the front page of The Item on June 21, 2013.

By Jade Anderson

Sexual Trauma Service of the Midlands recently opened a new office in Sumter. This is the first office the organization that assists survivors of sexual violence has opened outside of Columbia, according to a June 14 news release.

"The numbers justified it," said Ginny Waller, executive director.

This year alone, STSM has provided 490 services to 42 victims of sexual assault and abuse in Sumter County, the release states. They also had two hospital calls last week, Waller said.

The private, nonprofit agency is committed to providing free, direct services to survivors of sexual assault and abuse, including a 24-hour crisis hotline, hospital accompaniment, court accompaniment, personal advocacy, individual and group counseling and education about sexual trauma issues.

"We're going to be there for the survivors from the time they are immediately impacted all the way to 30, 40 or 50 years later when they may be interested in assistance or counseling," Waller said.

The United Way member agency started serving the area in March 2011. In August 2012 the STSM board of directors approved the permanent adoption of Sumter County and the hiring of a full-time staff member to open the agency's first satellite office.

"Since we arrived here a few weeks ago, we've seen an increase in requests for legal advocacy and more referrals for counseling from Shaw Air Force Base," said Melanie Griffin Snipes, STSM director of crisis services, in the release. She will be based in the new office at least two days each month to provide individual counseling.

The woman leading the office is a Sumter native.

"I am excited to provide these free and confidential services to all survivors in my home community," said Sarah Collins, community advocate and prevention specialist. "Opening an office in Sumter is one more step towards achieving STSM's vision to end sexual violence in our community."

The recent Columbia International University graduate started volunteering with the organization in 2011.

"I have a passion for helping exploited peoples, particularly survivors of sex trafficking," Collins said. "I was looking for ways to volunteer in a setting that utilized my passion. I heard about STSM from people who were volunteering and learned of the quality and victim-centered services that they provide. I was drawn to the opportunity to advocate for survivors at the hospital and be a helping presence in a time of crisis."

 

Half of her time will be spent providing direct services and support, and during the other half, she will be working on prevention, Waller said.

"Our agency's mission is twofold, (and) my job reflects our mission in that it is twofold as well," Collins said. "We seek to support survivors and help them heal from the trauma associated with their sexual assault and abuse. We also seek to identify and prevent future sexual violence in the community. I provide crisis intervention to survivors and their friends and family, as well as personal and legal advocacy to survivors.

"I also provide community education through a practice-based prevention curriculum aimed at middle- and high-school students and in-services and trainings on issues related to sexual assault or abuse for service providers, including law enforcement, medical personnel and advocates."

She is making plans to offer the STSM-developed curriculum during some summer camps, and beginning in the 2013-2014 academic year, she'll work with local middle- and high-school students. The six-week program is age-appropriate and has six components - gender stereotypes, media influence, teen dating violence, sexual violence, healthy relationships and boundary setting - Waller said.

"It's a huge gamut of curriculum," she said. "It's proven over a three-year study to reduce the incidents of sexual violence."

The new office is located at 105 N. Magnolia St., Sumter, on the fourth floor, and it's open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Friday.

For more information, call (803) 773-5531, extension 252, or email stsm@www.stsm.org.

Individuals interested in assistance may call the 24-hour hotline at 1-800-491-7273. All services are free and confidential.

Reach Jade Anderson at (803) 774-1250 or janderson@theitem.com.