South Carolina can make the case for some progress against domestic violence. We were worst in the nation for violence against women.
A recent report by the state Domestic Violence Advisory Committee said South Carolina "ranks as the nation's sixth-worst state" among rates of women murdered by men. The report adds that the state's "domestic-violence homicide rate" is more than 1.5 times the national average – but that’s better than the four times between 2000 and 2015 that the state had the worst violence race as ranked by Violence Policy Center in Washington in its annual “When Men Murder Women” report. The annual report details national and state-by-state information on female homicides involving one female murder victim and one male offender.
In the wake of such horrible statistics, former Gov. Nikki Haley created a task force in 2015 to raise awareness and advocate policies to combat domestic violence. Also 2015, the General Assembly also passed the Domestic Violence Act, which increased penalties for offenders and enforced a lifetime gun ban for domestic violence offenders whose crimes are of high and aggravated nature.
But there is need for the General Assembly to go back to work on the problem this year, particularly in addressing a key shortcoming in the present law.
The Violence Policy Center’s findings show that nationwide, 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.
Also, the overwhelming majority of homicides (82 percent) were not related to any other felony crime, such as rape or robbery. Most often, females were killed by males in the course of an argument between the victim and the offender.
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South Carolina’s present law does not adequately address the reality of today’s relationships, affording protection to spousal relationships, divorces and individuals who share a child or reside together. There is no provision for “dating” relationships.
Based on VPC numbers, the protection of the law may not apply to at least a third of victims. That has to change.
Beaufort Rep. Shannon Erickson told The Associated Press that lawmakers recognize the shortcomings in domestic violence legislation and plan to do something about them.
"There is a lot of cohabitation that is dating and not marriage," Erickson said. "We're working on a legislative piece that changes the definition and adds a dating relationship into the scenario. The ramifications of leaving that particular definition out are large."
Lexington Sen. Katrina Shealy has introduced legislation in the Senate to expand domestic violence protections and allow protective orders to apply to those currently or formerly dating.
Erickson also told AP the advisory committee is prioritizing domestic violence education in schools and communities, and funding for research.
No number of deaths from domestic violence is acceptable. The state must prioritize combatting the problem – but at the same time, so must people.
Families and communities cannot remain silent in reporting abuse. And more men than seemingly are aware today must accept that women are to be respected, not abused.