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It’s hard to say having the fifth-highest rate among the 50 states in a ranking of violence against women is any kind of good news.

But after South Carolina has been ranked No. 1 in the rate of women being murdered by men, such is the case.

South Carolina’s rate of 2.32 women per 100,000 in 2013 was down to 1.73 in 2014, according to the new Violence Policy Center study titled "When Men Murder Women: An Analysis of 2014 Homicide Data." The 2014 rate is still higher than the national average of 1.08 per 100,000.

The annual report was released in advance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October. The study uses 2014 data, the most recent year for which information is available. It covers homicides involving one female murder victim and one male offender, and uses data from the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Report.

The study found that nationwide, 93 percent of women killed by men were murdered by someone they knew, and that the most common weapon used was a gun.

The Violence Policy Center has published "When Men Murder Women" annually for 19 years. During that period, nationwide the rate of women murdered by men in single victim/single offender incidents has dropped 31 percent — from 1.57 per 100,000 in 1996 to 1.08 per 100,000 in 2014.

Alaska replaced South Carolina as the worst state for men killing women, with a rate of 3.15 per 100,000. Louisiana was second at 2.15, with Nevada third at 1.98 and Oklahoma fourth at 1.73. Georgia ranked eighth with a rate of 1.58.

Nationwide, 1,613 females were murdered by males in single victim/single offender incidents in 2014, at a rate of 1.08 per 100,000. Out of the 1,613 female homicide victims, 1,116 were white, 424 were black, 44 were Asian or Pacific Islander, 14 were American Indian or Alaskan Native, and in 15 cases the race of the victim was not identified.

Nine out of 10 victims knew their offenders. Of the victims who knew their offenders, 63 percent were wives or other intimate acquaintances of their killers.

Black women are disproportionately impacted by fatal domestic violence. In 2014, black females were murdered by men at a rate of 2.19 per 100,000, more than twice the rate of 0.97 per 100,000 for white women murdered by men.

The study urges state legislators to adopt laws that enhance enforcement of federal legislation and ensure that guns are surrendered by or removed from the presence of abusers.

“Women are almost always killed by someone they know, and the majority are victims of domestic homicide. Local, state and national policymakers must make preventing domestic violence a priority,” states VPC Legislative Director Kristen Rand.

In South Carolina, reducing domestic violence has been a priority with lawmakers, who have approved tougher laws against domestic violence. Critics, however, argue the state continues to do too little to limit access to guns.

Gov. Nikki Haley helped sharpen the focus on domestic violence with an effort announced in April.

The governor and members of the South Carolina Domestic Violence Task Force were joined by sheriffs from around South Carolina as the chief law enforcement officers pledged to adopt an initiative that will improve officer response and create a baseline standard of uniformity statewide for domestic violence crimes by the end of this year.

According to Haley, each sheriff — including Orangeburg’s Leroy Ravenell, Calhoun’s Thomas Summers and Bamberg’s Ed Darnell — will implement an internal policy specifically for domestic violence aimed at ensuring victim safety, offender accountability and officer safety and accountability.

At a minimum, the internal policy will include five standards, which were identified by the Governor’s Domestic Violence Task Force as being critical to law enforcement response to domestic violence:

  • Requiring officers to file incident reports on every domestic violence call.
  • Mandating supervisory review of all domestic violence incident reports.
  • Designating an individual to obtain copies of orders of protection from family court.
  • Requiring officers to conduct a wanted check at the scene of a domestic violence call.
  • Providing officers with a one-page reference guide, including key points of law and a basic checklist for a general lethality assessment.

Each sheriff’s office is to conduct a needs assessment for responding to and investigating domestic violence incidents for the purpose of developing a plan to obtain resources and improve services. The assessment will lay the foundation for the governor’s law enforcement domestic violence initiatives in 2017 and 2018, continuing implementation of best practices proposed by the Domestic Violence Task Force.

As law enforcement plays a critical role in the lives of domestic violence victims, the pledge by sheriffs to implement the new policy is a high-profile step in making prevention, protection and prosecution the priority that it must be in South Carolina as the state strives to move itself far down the rankings of states with the worst violence against women.

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