The hotline rings in the Columbia office of Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands (STSM), and within the hour a trained STSM advocate is at the hospital at the side of someone who has survived a sexual assault. Whether it’s Christmas morning or the middle of the night, they arrive at a vulnerable moment to offer new clothes, a warm blanket, or comfort and support.
Sexual Trauma Services of Midlands made 350 hospital accompaniments last year, offering aid to sexual assault victims ranging in age from infancy to their 80s. In the aftermath of a rape or sexual assault, when medical personnel are tending to injuries and police are collecting evidence and opening an investigation, the advocate is the only person there to focus solely on the survivor’s needs.
“We see people from all walks of life,” says Mary Dell Hayes, Executive Director of STSM. “So often they say, ‘We didn’t know this was a resource that was available.’ It’s just a service that people don’t think about needing to exist.”
STSM was founded in 1983 by seven women who wanted to provide rape and sexual assault survivors with emotional support and also help prevent them from facing high hospital bills. Since then, STSM has expanded to offer trauma counseling, advocacy services, and prevention education.
“If someone in our community wants to address sexual violence, we have a way for them to do that,” Hayes says, “whether it’s volunteering as an advocate, making sure our education programs are in their kids’ schools, helping their church with policies that protect children and vulnerable adults, or them becoming one of those volunteers who answers the hotline and goes to the hospital.”
STSM’s hospital accompaniment program begins with a call to the agency’s hotline, (803) 771-7273. Volunteers in the service receive over 25 hours of training. Advocates have called a survivor’s parents to notify them to come to the hospital; offered warm blankets, or sandwiches and ginger ale to ease the stomach discomfort caused by medicines to ward off infection; arranged rides home; and provided new, tags-on clothes from a stash kept at every Columbia hospital, to replace a survivor’s clothes collected as evidence by police.
“We don’t give out used clothing,” Hayes says. “It’s part of rebuilding. This person has had all their power and control taken from them, they already feel used enough. We want to give them something new.”
Advocates also follow up within 24 hours to see if the survivor has any questions or immediate needs. Donations help keep STSM’s hotline up and running; help train volunteers; and help pay for new, tags-on clothing, or materials for survivors to take home with them, or even taxi fare home from the hospital if needed. Donations can be made online at STSM’s website or mailed to 3830 Forest Drive, Suite 201, Columbia, S.C., 29204.
STSM also accepts gift cards, which helps them make purchases in bulk, and is always in need of items like journals and new, tags-on clothing. They accept donations at their Columbia address. In addition, the agency has an Amazon wish list containing items such a yoga pants, sports bras and hair ties. It’s all part of an effort to provide comfort and help to a sexual assault survivor at a raw, vulnerable moment.
“Our advocate is the only person there whose sole job is to support that survivor,” Hayes says. “I think that’s a really important start that people need to know is available.”
Interesting in donating to Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands, or becoming a volunteer? Contact the agency at (803) 790-8208, or online at STSM.org.