PHOTO: A main area of the SAFE Clinic is seen April 30, 2019 at the Safe Clinic in Nashville. / Photo by Rachael Long
By RACHAEL LONG
*Editor’s note: This article contains discussions of sexual assault. If you or a loved one has been a victim of sexual assault, the National Sexual Assault Hotline is 1-800-656-4673.
Since its opening in August 2018, the SAFE Clinic at the Sexual Assault Center (SAC) in Nashville has helped more than 120 victims of sexual assault.
The clinic offers sexual assault medical exams — also known as “rape kits” — as well as counseling services and advocacy for victims.
Though it is based in Nashville, Victim Advocate Betsy Mangum said Williamson County is not immune to this type of violence.
“Sexual assault happens anywhere, not just in urban areas,” Mangum said. “It can happen in Williamson County.”
While the clinic primarily serves Nashvillians, SAFE Clinic and Advocacy Services Director Akua Forkuo-Sekyere said nearly 6% of those seen in the clinic’s first nine months have been Williamson County residents. And that’s just from those who have verbalized that they live in Williamson County, she said.
While some in the county have utilized services at the clinic, another layer of Mangum’s role is to help make Williamson County residents aware of its services and its availability to help them.
On behalf of the SAC, Mangum attends regular Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) meetings in Williamson County where detectives, advocates and victim-witness coordinators from the District Attorney’s office gather to go over cases of sexual assault. Mangum said it is a holistic approach to helping survivors through the entire criminal justice and healing processes.
She also works with detectives in Brentwood, Franklin and Nolensville to be a resource in cases of sexual assault. Though it has not yet happened, Mangum said she has offered to go to Williamson County to be a victim advocate if needed.
The role of an advocate varies case by case, but may look like assistance in reporting, education prevention training, finding therapy resources or just walking through the legal process with the victim.
“Sometimes they just want to call and talk for an hour,” Mangum said. “And if time allows, that happens, too.”
While Williamson County Medical Center is available for situations of emergency assault, Mangum said the center does not have a Sexual Assault Nurse Examination (SANE) program. In fact, the SAFE Clinic is the first sexual assault clinic in the Nashville metropolitan area, but Forkuo-Sekyere noted that Nashville General Hospital and Vanderbilt Medical Center both offer SANE exams.
Even so, the SAFE Clinic exists to provide a non-emergency room option for survivors.
“When you look at the various research when it comes to sexual assault response, one of the things that usually comes up is that…it can be very difficult to focus and prioritize those victims and survivors, because when you go into an emergency room there’s a lot of things that are happening at the same time,” Forkuo-Sekyere said. “With the intimacies of such a crime as sexual assault…it’s very important that someone is receiving trauma-informed care.”
When someone walks into the SAFE Clinic, Forkuo-Sekyere said they are the priority.
And there’s really no telling how recent their assault may be. While some victims visit the clinic soon enough after an assault to have the SANE exam, Mangum said they may also see victims whose assault happened 30 years before but came to the clinic because they were triggered by a recent experience.
“Every survivor has a different healing journey… that varies on someone’s experience, how they might identify, [and] various interactions,” Forkuo-Sekyere said.
“We ultimately want people to be able to access services so they are able to find ways to maybe cope or understand or come to some point of healing…it’s just like any other wound. If you don’t pay attention to it, it could potentially get worse.”
The clinic is publicly funded, and the staff says both the sexual assault medical exams and advocacy services are provided to the victim at no cost. Payment for counseling services work through insurance, but Forkuo-Sekyere said the clinic provides as many options as it can to make the services affordable.
“We don’t turn anyone away for inability to pay,” Forkuo-Sekyere said. “We also offer sliding scale, as well, so it’s just dependent on the factors associated with each person.”
The clinic has about 50 people on staff, including those at the Clarksville office. It receives funding from the Tennessee Department of the Treasury to help reimburse the cost of the exams, supplies and services, but Forkuo-Sekyere said they do not always receive the full amount back.
Donations of clothes, shoes, hygiene supplies and financial contributions are accepted at the clinic. To make a donation or for more information, visit the clinic’s website here, or call 615-258-5888.
Forkuo-Sekyere encourages everyone to share information about the clinic and its resources with loved ones, friends and coworkers.
“You never know who might take that resource down and actually use it,” Forkuo-Sekyere said. “It’s here…it’s available, and nothing is too small or too big.”