Since it opened in October 2019, the Victims Services Center in Okatie has served nearly 1,500 clients dealing with domestic abuse.
One of the services provided is to conduct sexual assault exams of children at the center, in a space designed for them. As of late November, a new initiative allows adults the option of being seen at the center when it is open or by appointment. The additional service is a partnership with the Ulmer Family Pharmacy and Wellness Center.
It gives forensic nurse Jennifer Talley, who oversees the Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner Program and its forensic nurses, more opportunities to help adult survivors of sexual assault.
“Technically, I could see them anytime during the day or night, but typically adults report to ERs near their homes,” she said. “The benefit would be that (our center) is a much less intimidating environment, and more direct and compassionate one-on-one, as opposed to an ER with 20 other people” coming in and out.
Since the center opened, 113 adult and 45 pediatric exams have been conducted by the forensic nurse staff of the VSC.
The pediatric exam program was the initial focus.
“It was borne out of the simple fact there just weren’t services for children who were sexually abused or assaulted,” said Erinn McGuire, community outreach coordinator for the 14th Circuit Court. “They were having to travel long distances to MUSC to have these pediatric exams performed, and the solicitor felt that was worrisome and concerning on many levels. This facility was another option closer to home.”
The aim of the forensic exam is to assess a victim’s health care needs, coordinate treatment of any injuries, and collect evidence for potential use during case investigation and prosecution. However, the goal of the center is not tied to increasing convictions but is simply to provide victims with professional services in a compassionate manner in a safe environment.
“Since the body is the crime scene, evidence is time-sensitive,” Talley said. “It is best to seek medical attention immediately. We are now able to treat for sexually transmitted diseases and other issues. That was another drawback to providing exams to adult patients here, and now through an agreement with Ulmer pharmacy, we have medications on hand.”
14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone said addressing intimate-partner violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking is a top priority.
“We have the only Family Justice Center in the state that provides services to victims, regardless of where they live,” said Stone. “Our community and nonprofit partners have joined us in our commitment to provide compassionate, safe, private and professional services to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse and other crimes against vulnerable people.”
Forensic nursing services are available for adults during normal business hours or by calling the center at 843-790-6220 to schedule an appointment. Patients needing after-hours care are encouraged to call 911 or visit their nearest emergency room.
When victims come to the Services Center, “I think that they’re more relaxed and more comfortable giving information, and even more receptive to receiving information, because it’s not as stimulating in the center as it is in an emergency room,” Talley said. “It’s focused on them instead of everything else that is going on around them.”
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.