SC’s first-ever domestic violence summit focuses on new strategies

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA) – South Carolina, number one in the nation for the rate of women killed by men, held its first-ever Domestic Violence Summit Friday to discuss new strategies to address the problem. It was hosted by Gov. Nikki Haley’s Domestic Violence Task Force at the USC School of Law in Columbia.

Prosecutors, victims’ advocates, service providers, and law enforcement talked about the state’s new efforts, including the creation of new Domestic Violence Fatality Review Committees. Gov. Nikki Haley told the summit participants, “This is so important, because this fatality review committee is going to bring everybody together and on every one of those cases look back and say, ‘What could we have done?’ And you at that point don’t beat yourself up over it; you say we’re going to make this change so it never happens again.”

South Carolina is one of only three states that require police officers to try domestic violence cases in court, which puts them against defense lawyers. Now, the state will be hiring more prosecutors so that every case will be handled by a lawyer.

Law enforcement officers will also be getting additional training in handling domestic violence cases. Officers already get about 80 hours of domestic violence-related training at the state Criminal Justice Academy, but now they’ll be getting more to make sure they’re collecting enough evidence to make a strong case, separating abusers from victims, interviewing children in the home, and taking more photographs.

Officers will have new domestic violence response toolkits, which include an incident report checklist to make sure they’re taking every step they need to, and a “lethality screening assessment.” Brian Bennett, an instructor at the academy, says, “It helps the victim themself realize the dangerous situation that they are in. Many times, it’s not for lack of them knowing, it’s a realization that, although things are bad, it’s not knowing that this is going to lead to death if there’s not some intervention. So this lethality assessment helps educate the victim at that moment of officer intervention. They see it with their own eyes that the chances of them being killed in these type of incidents, if there’s not some intervention, is high. But it also educates our law enforcement officers.”

The state is also launching a new website so victims or family members or friends of victims will have one place they can go to get more information on what to do. That website is:

Katie Morgan, Director of Child Support Enforcement Services at the state Department of Social Services and a member of the Domestic Violence Task Force, says, “We’ve done a lot of research on the gaps of the services that are available in this state, services including shelter, housing, financial services, transportation, safe visitation services for their children. Once we identified those gaps, we’ve gone about seeing if there are standards for these different services, whether they’re standards on shelter services, batterer intervention programs. So we’ve identified the gaps, we’ve identified the service needs, and now we’re going about creating standards for these different services and looking for ways to implement all of these services at the local level.”

Stirling says one of the biggest differences since the creation of the task force has been better coordination among all the groups involved. “They’re talking about helping victims. They’re talking about the abuser and how to get them the help they need so they will not continue on this path. It’s going to be a tremendous impact for the state,” he says.

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