It is the first facility of its kind in South Carolina.

The 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office opened its new Victims’ Services Center Thursday in Okatie.

The building provides a central location that combines a number of services for assault and abuse victims.

It is also equipped to ease the travel burden and spare many child victims the trauma of repeatedly recounting their experience.

The Victims Services Center provides assistance to victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault and other crimes against vulnerable populations. Although there are other victim centers in South Carolina, they lack an exam room, the presence of a prosecutorial agency or both.

“Victims need to know that crime that took place doesn’t define them and they are able to move on from that,” explains 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone.

“When they have to come and talk about the absolute worst thing in their life they can do it at one time and one place with all the services taking them through the criminal justice system,” says Alan Wilson, SC Attorney General.

Services from reporting the trauma to getting a medical exam done by a specially trained nurse to even getting legal help prosecuting the person responsible and getting a family out of an abusive situation.

A combination of prosecutors and non-profit agencies all in one place. One big way to help victims report and deal with the worst day of their lives.

“Being able to tell their story once, not having to tell a doctor their story, tell a nurse their story, tell an advocate their story,” explains Heather Dollar, SANE Coordinator for the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office. “As an adult, you don’t want to do that, especially as a 5-year-old child. You don’t want to do that. You just get mad, you shut down and you stop talking.”

The Victims Services Center opened in November 2018, when several partners moved into rent-free office space inside the Solicitor’s Office headquarters in Okatie. Lowcountry Legal Volunteers, Hopeful Horizons, the Child Abuse Prevention Association and the Lowcountry Alliance for Healthy Youth provide consultations and services just down a hallway from the Solicitor’s Office Special Victims Unit prosecutorial team.

Thursday’s grand opening highlighted additional services recently added to the center. A new camera system in a children’s interview room can be viewed via closed-circuit by other professionals in an adjacent room. This reduces the number of times children have to recount their stories, a process that can re-traumatize some victims. The room is also available to law enforcement officers who want to interview child witnesses in an environment less intimidating than a police station.

The center also features a fully equipped medical-exam room. It is staffed by Heather Dollar, a fulltime sexual assault nurse examiner, also a first in the state, thanks to a Victims of Crime Act grant and support from local philanthropic organizations like the Zonta Club of Hilton Head Island and the Kiwanis Club of Bluffton.

The goal, to allow victims to move through quicker and easier. Agencies working together to give medical, emotional and legal help all in one place. With the hope the victim will only have to relive their tragedy one time.

Prior to the launch of the 14th Circuit Sexual Assault Forensic Exam (SAFE) Program, children were forced to travel long distances for acute treatment. Many only able to go all the way to MUSC in Charleston just for an exam, not the counseling and legal follow up necessary to make a case.

“There are only 76 SANE nurses in the state,” Dollar said. “Recent data shows that only 19 percent of children in need of an acute medical exam are seen. Our goal is to close that service gap while providing specialized care to the victim and collect the evidence needed to aid in the prosecution of offenders.”

Staff from the following organizations/agencies offer services within the VSC:

• The 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office is the chief prosecuting agency for Allendale, Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton, and Jasper counties. Our primary role is to prosecute all cases in General Sessions Court, certain misdemeanors in Magistrate’s Court and all criminal cases in Family Court. Services to crime victims were expanded in 2017 to include a Special Victims Unit, which focuses on domestic violence, child and elder abuse and sexual assault cases.

• The 14th Circuit Sexual Assault Forensic Exam (SAFE) Program provides medical examinations to those who have been sexually assaulted by utilizing a fulltime SANE nurse trained to treat pediatric, adolescent and adult victims.

• Lowcountry Legal Volunteers provides free, critical legal services and education through community volunteers and retired lawyers to low income and families in Beaufort, Hampton, and Jasper counties. LCLV handles civil cases in the following areas: adoption, child custody, visitation, and child support, divorce, name changes, simple consumer matters, eviction actions, lease termination, simple wills, and probate.

• Hopeful Horizons is a children’s advocacy, domestic violence and rape crisis center serving the 14th Circuit. Hopeful Horizons offers a 24-hour crisis line and emergency shelter for victims of intimate partner violence and their children, court accompaniment, adult and children’s counseling and case management. They offer legal assistance and victim advocacy in Family Court to include the filing of Orders of Protection and restraining orders.

• The Lowcountry Alliance for Healthy Youth is a community prevention coalition in Southern Beaufort County that brings together all sectors of the community to identify and implement strategies that promote positive youth development by addressing substance use/abuse and related risk behaviors. LCAHY is a recipient of a Drug-Free Communities
Support Program Grant.

• The Child Abuse Prevention Association provides prevention and intervention programs that target breaking the cycle of child abuse and neglect through school-based safety and character development education programs for children, teen pregnancy prevention programs, and a variety of parent education and support programs. Since opening in 1985, the Open Arms Children’s Home has been home to more than 2,100 children.

• Bikers Against Child Abuse exists with the intent to create a safer environment for abused children. These bikers empower children to not feel afraid of the world in which they live. They lend support and work in conjunction with local and state officials who are already in place to protect children.