From crisis to healing: Providence helps victims of abuse take first step

September 21, 2016
At 19 years old, Shannon* was excited to begin her college experience. But early in the fall semester, everything changed when she was raped by someone she knew and trusted. Similar to many people in her situation, Shannon was hesitant to seek help. She blamed herself.

Her mother contacted First Step Resource Center at Providence St. Patrick Hospital to find out how to get Shannon the help she needed.

A supportive and safe environment

First Step is the only medical sexual assault treatment program in the area. Victims and their families receive the care and services they need in one location – ranging from medical evaluations and forensic interviews to mental health treatment – to prevent repeated trauma from having to share their story multiple times. The center services a six-county area including the Flathead Reservation.

The care coordinator at First Step helped Shannon feel comfortable enough to begin treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. After several months working with a licensed clinical social worker, Shannon’s symptoms dramatically reduced to a level that could be managed by a combination of self-care strategies and medication.

Thousands of victims find road to recovery

First Step has responded to over 5,000 reports of child and adult abuse and assault since it was founded in October 2000. From a community health needs assessment, Providence discovered that consistently high rates of intimate partner violence occur in Missoula County, Montana and responded with a community investment of more than $245,000 in 2015.

As for Shannon, she no longer blames herself for being raped. With an understanding of how difficult investigation and prosecution would be, Shannon developed the confidence and will to participate in the process. She has made remarkable strides in nearly every aspect of her life, despite having experienced trauma at such a pivotal point in early adulthood.

Part of a bigger team

The First Step staff is made up of three nurse examiners and forensic interviewers, three on-call nurse examiners, a licensed clinical social worker and a care coordinator, all working together to provide early interventions that reduce the effects of trauma on quality of life and lead to long-term recovery. 

To provide a network of community support, First Step coordinates a multidisciplinary team of members from Missoula City and County law enforcement, Child and Family Services, the Missoula County Attorney’s Office, community mental health providers and victim advocate agencies.

*Patient has given Providence permission to share her story, but the name has been changed to protect patient privacy.