South Carolina continues to rank near the bottom in the nation when it comes to protecting female victims of domestic violence, according to a report that has led state lawmakers to call for more action.
A 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, released last week, adds that the state’s “domestic-violence homicide rate” is more than 1.5 times the national average.
Still, that represents a slight improvement from previous years when South Carolina topped the list four times between 2000 and 2015.
“For ten years we were at the bottom of the barrel and being number six is better, but being number six from the bottom is still not good,” said state Sen. Katrina Shealy, of Lexington.
Following years of abysmal statistics about domestic abuse victims, former Gov. Nikki Haley created a task force in 2015 to raise awareness and advocate policies to protect vulnerable populations. That year, 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.
Since that time, Beaufort Rep. Shannon Erickson said the advisory committee has determined that three key elements require more attention: domestic violence education in schools and communities, funding for research, and legislation to better protect survivors.
Erickson said lawmakers recognize the shortcomings in domestic violence legislation and plan to do something about it.
“There is a lot of cohabitation that is dating and not marriage,” Rep. 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 is large.”
Shealy has already introduced legislation in the Senate to expand domestic violence protections and allow protective orders to apply to those currently or formerly dating. Current law only applies those protections to spousal relationships, divorces, and individuals who share a child or reside together. Shealy said the committee will continue to work but needs more money for research.
“The research shows the data. It shows that if we work together, we can improve the numbers,” the Republican lawmaker said. “Being number one in domestic violence is never where we want to be again.”
Other changes have gone into effect as a result of the task force’s efforts, including a change to the practice of relying on police to prosecute domestic violence cases in municipal and magisterial courts, according to 14th circuit solicitor and advisory committee chairman Duffie Stone.
Stone said police should not be saddled with the responsibility of prosecuting domestic violence cases.
“We ask police officers to protect us in our schools, in our homes, in our businesses. We should not ask them to argue nuances of constitutional law in the courtroom on behalf of victims of domestic violence,” he said.
The Violence Policy Center reported that in 2016, the homicide rate among females murdered by males in South Carolina was 1.88 per 100,000. The Washington D.C.-based nonprofit organization also reported 95 percent of female victims were murdered by someone they knew.