Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands' offices were shut down yesterday after someone called in threats to the organization.
And the group's signature event, Walk A Mile in Their Shoes, which raises money and awareness about sexual violence and abuse, has now been cancelled.
Thursday, April 11, would have been the 10th anniversary of the event, which is usually held at the State House.
Executive Director Mary Dell Hayes told Free Times a male caller contacted Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands and two other South Carolina organizations that provide similar services, and "made a series of threats to whoever answered the phone." Those made against her organization were "the most specific of the threats."
"We get crazy calls on a fairly regular basis," Hayes tells Free Times. "People will either say very obscene things or make threatening comments. But this felt a little different. One, it was a higher level of threat than we typically receive, and also I think in 2019 you take these things a little more seriously than you did in 2017.
"The other component is our community is on edge right now after the murder in Five Points two weeks ago," she adds. "I think we’re just at a heightened level of response."
The organization has a protocol for such situations: "We always call law enforcement and rely on their advice," Hayes says.
And internally, they assess the level of threat.
"If it reaches a certain threshold, whether specificity or intensity or the perceived level of mental illness of the caller, any of those factors may make it feel more credible for us," Hayes says. "Then we’ll shut down our offices. We have law enforcement escort our staff out."
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, who has participated in Walk A Mile in Their Shoes in the past, told Free Times he had urged the organization to hold the event.
The organization released a statement late Wednesday about the cancellation.
“As this case is not yet resolved and as our primary responsibility is advancing the health and well being of our clients, staff, and those who support our work in the community, we choose to cancel tomorrow's Walk A Mile In Their Shoes at the South Carolina State House,” it reads.
”We make this decision out of an abundance of caution. The daily work of STSM continues. We encourage everyone to use their voice to support survivors in our families and communities.”