Sexual Trauma Service of Midlands services are diverse

Margaret Brackett - Contributing Columnist

This week we will sponsor Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands, a private non-profit United Way member agency. The purpose is to increase the public’s understanding and awareness about sexual violence and to educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual violence. Guests are Eva Maron, Advocate Counselor, Newberry County Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands, and Liz Coffey, Director of Development.

Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands is a private non-profit agency. STSM advocates for and supports survivors of sexual assault and abuse in Newberry, Richland, Lexington, and Sumter counties. We also work to educate the community to identify and prevent sexual violence.

Our services have been provided in Newberry for 25 years. Years ago, we had a full-time office in Newberry that was staffed by volunteers, with leadership provided by Hazel Clark. We then had a part-time counselor in Newberry for many years using donated office space. We are excited to again have a dedicated office, this time with a full-time licensed counselor. This will mean increased access to services for survivors in the county. All of our services are provided at no cost and are confidential.

The office is located in downtown Newberry in the Mower Building, 1530 Main St., Suite 201. The Sexual Trauma Service of the Midlands provide services for survivors:

• Hospital accompaniment, which is provided to all survivors who report an assault at a hospital emergency department, regardless of age.

• Our 24-hour hotline is also available to anyone who is a survivor of sexual assault or abuse, as well as friends and family of survivors.

• Our in-office crisis intervention and counseling services are available to all survivors and supporting friends or family members over age 12.

• Education services are offered to help identify and prevent sexual violence. These are available to community groups, agencies, schools, churches, anyone looking to increase their knowledge.

It is important to mention that sexual violence affects people regardless of race, ethnicity, class, sexual and gender identity, religious affiliation, age, immigration status, and ability.

Our counselors, educators, and advocates have received training to support survivors who represent the diverse communities represented in the Midlands. We are able to offer services at no cost because of generous support from our community.

Sexual assault is a form of abuse that involves one or more people forcing, coercing, or manipulating another person in order to gain sexual contact.

Sexual assault can include rape, unwanted touching, fondling, or kissing; forcing someone to look at or pose for pornographic material; or forced oral sex. Sexual assault is a violent crime that involves power, aggression and control. Rape and sexual assault are never the survivor’s fault.

Sexual assault can happen anywhere, anytime of day, to anyone regardless of age, class, ethnicity, socio-economic status, sexuality or gender. Every four hours and 46 minutes someone is forcibly raped in South Carolina. Only 39 percent of violent crimes are ever reported. Sexual crimes are costly to the community — nearly $4.1 billion in direct costs of medical and mental health care and nearly $1.8 billion in indirect costs in lost productivity.

A person is more likely to be raped or sexually abused by someone they know than by a stranger; Approximately 80 percent of rape survivors know their assailant in some fashion prior to the assault. This crime happens to children between the ages of 10 and 21 more than two times any other age group.

Sexual Trauma Services are so important because of the huge impact sexual assault and sexual abuse has. Sexual assault is an issue that overlaps many other issues, including mental health and substance abuse.

Everyone reacts differently and survivors often experience a wide range of emotions from denial, anger, fear, guilt, depression, self-blame, shock, numbing, anxiety and social isolation. Some survivors have periods of their life where they feel no effects, and other periods where the effects are ever-present.

When someone is sexually assaulted, they often have feelings of shame. It’s important to remember that sexual abuse or assault is never the survivor’s fault. If a threat to the survivor’s immediate safety exists, or they are in need of immediate medical attention, it’s important to call 911 as soon as possible. It’s important that they receive medical attention.

If the assault has happened within 72-120 hours, the survivor can go to the hospital for evidence collection and immediate care. Often, people are nervous about seeking medical care because they are unsure if they will be forced to report their assault to law enforcement. It’s important to know that if a survivor is over the age of 18, they will not be required to involve law enforcement if they choose not to.

There is no “right” or “wrong” way to recover from a sexual assault. However, there are unhelpful, self-destructive ways of coping. Alcohol abuse, drug use, suicidal statements, increased high risk behaviors, trouble sleeping, and detachment from social activities are examples of warning signs that someone may need to get professional assistance.

My final word of advice is to call us. Our hotline is available 24/7 at 803-771-7273 to answer questions, provide information about our services or just for someone to talk to. Even if the assault happened years ago, a survivor can still receive services from us.

Because our full time office in Newberry is fairly new, we are always looking for additional partners and new ways to be involved with the Newberry community.

STSM was also instrumental in starting the Newberry County sexual assault response team. This is a multi-agency group who meets quarterly to make sure that any survivor in Newberry County is receiving the best care from every agency involved. The

Newberry team includes representatives from STSM, Newberry College, Beyond Abuse (which is the child advocacy center for Newberry county) , the hospital, solicitor’s office and both city and county law enforcement.

We also participate in the Newberry community provider meetings. This group consists of agencies from all over Newberry County who serve the community in a variety of ways. We meet monthly to share resources and ideas to better serve the community.

Margaret Brackett

Contributing Columnist

Margaret Brackett is from Newberry. Her columns appear weekly in The Newberry Observer.

Margaret Brackett is from Newberry. Her columns appear weekly in The Newberry Observer.

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