Guest column: Cumbee Center serves survivors of sexual, domestic violence
As is our tradition, the Cumbee Center to Assist Abused Persons began in early summer to plan awareness events and activities for Domestic Violence Month in October. We will hang purple ribbons in a couple of the towns we serve, distribute informational posters about the effects of domestic violence, and participate in festivals to reach people who need to know what we do.
This past year, we sheltered 187 victims of abuse, of which 85 of those were children. We provided advocacy, case management and counseling to over 600 other victims of domestic violence. We were able to assist almost 180 people with orders of protection. This year we have already sheltered 140 people.
We have grown our capacity to serve victims with our move to a new office that allowed us to hire an additional full-time counselor, another community and prevention educator. Because of the collaboration we have with the solicitor’s office, we are able to position an advocate in the courthouse who will be available to provide our confidential crisis advocacy to victims. Having this advocate on site at the courthouse eliminates barriers they may face with transportation issues or hesitation to have to come to yet another location for services.
Our core mission is to support victims of domestic violence and sexual violence while also working to change cultural attitudes that condone violence. This month, we are focusing awareness activities on domestic violence, but we are always advocating for survivors of sexual assault as well. We follow the same mission as the other 14 rape crisis centers in South Carolina, our state coalition (South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault) and the national coalitions which is to believe and support sexual assault survivors.
On Sept. 27, RAINN reported that the National Sexual Assault Hotline received 201 percent above the average amount of calls they usually receive. They forwarded those calls to local hotlines like ours. We began receiving calls from survivors who were upset about how victims were being treated in the media and were immediately re-traumatized, reliving the trauma they experienced from their abusers.
At times we must take a strong stand to let survivors know that they have an agency that will offer services, whether anyone else believes them or not. It is not our job to decide guilt or innocence of the accused, but to provide free, confidential services to those who have the courage to ask for our help. In South Carolina the 15 sexual assault agencies in South Carolina assisted 5,698 new clients. Of those 1,218 were male. At Cumbee Center, we assisted 199 new clients. Our staff and volunteer advocates responded to 71 sexual assault victims at Aiken Regional Medical Centers to provide comfort, support and information to these victims and work alongside the excellent Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners who collect evidence.
Cumbee Center is the only crisis agency in the counties we serve that provides on-call hospital advocacy for all victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. This year we have already responded to 61 sexual assault hospital calls just through September, and many of these victims were children. Our Volunteer Coordinator has doubled the amount of volunteer trainings this year due to the increased demand for hospital accompaniment in the last two years. Survivors in our community and in the world at large are waiting and watching to discover if agencies like ours will still listen and advocate for them. At Cumbee Center, we remain ready 24/7 to listen, believe and advocate for survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault. If you need assistance, call our hotline 803-649-0480.
Susan Selden is the executive director of the Cumbee Center to Assist Abused Persons.