South Carolina is well known for having one of the highest rates of domestic violence in the nation, including the second-highest rate in the nation for women murdered by men in domestic violence situations. But those who’ve been working on the problem say a new law that took effect in June and upcoming recommendations from the Governor’s Domestic Violence Task Force should save lives and lower the state’s numbers.
Sara Barber, director of the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault and a member of the task force, says, “The new law came into effect in June so it’s been a very, very short time and I think, looking at evaluating any law’s impact, you have to give it much longer time period before we can really see what that has been.”
The new law stiffened penalties and changed the way tougher penalties are handed down, now taking into account the severity of the abuse instead of just whether the abuser had any previous convictions. Now an abuser will get a longer sentence if, for example, he tries to strangle his victim, uses a gun, or whether there are children present.
The new law also bans some abusers from owning guns.
The governor’s task force has 50 recommendations for further reducing the number of domestic violence cases. Barber says a big component is preventing the abuse in the first place by educating young people about things like recognizing dating violence and stopping it and what a positive relationship looks like.
“You don’t try and just introduce concepts of domestic violence to children or students in a one-hour setting, that you do it over sustained lengths of time. So you have eight or nine sessions that you repeat every year, so this becomes something that becomes a part of them, that they just know,” she says.
Other recommendations from the task force include ways for state agencies to streamline and better coordinate their response to domestic violence. Laura Hudson, director of the South Carolina Crime Victims’ Council and a member of the task force, says one example is coming up with a standard procedure for orders of protection. “Simplifying them for the person that’s filling them out so they don’t have to have an attorney to do that,” she says.
She says the state’s domestic violence rate isn’t likely to improve soon. “A combination of the law change and the task force suggestions, I think it’ll take us several years to see the outcome of that, but I think the combination is really unique. I don’t think we’ve ever had anything where we’ve tackled the law and tackled the culture at the same time,” she says.