Ongoing efforts against domestic violence are giving authorities hope that the crime might be curbed in Georgetown County despite the state’s top ranking for deaths of women at the hands of men.
Based on 2011 homicide data, an annual report by the Violence Policy Center showed more women were killed by men in South Carolina than any other state.
Georgetown County hopes initiatives like the Georgetown Men Endorsing Nonviolence can reduce domestic violence crimes.
The rankings by the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit are ordered by the number of women murdered by men per 100,000 people and includes only records involving a single male offender. In South Carolina, more than half were killed by a spouse or boyfriend and 91 percent were killed by men they knew. Two were in Horry County.
Cheryl Gillespie, 53, was shot by her ex-husband Gary Gillespie, and Marsella Lippert, 39, was stabbed by her husband James Lippert. Both men were charged with murder but pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter. Gary Gillespie was sentenced to nine months in prison with credit for time served. James Lippert was sentenced in January 2013 to 17 years and six months imprisonment.
Domestic violence calls for service dipped between 2011 and 2012 in some Grand Strand locations, records show. Each call does not necessarily end in an arrest.
Georgetown County had 117 fewer calls in 2012 compared to 2011. North Myrtle Beach dipped from 140 to 125 and Myrtle Beach dropped from 442 to 379.
Horry County had a slight uptick with 158 more calls. Surfside Beach also increased, by 12.
Georgetown County recently designated a deputy to criminal domestic violence cases, who declined a request for an interview.
Vicki Bourus, co-executive director of the Family Justice Center in Georgetown, said the deputy’s efforts increased use of the Family Justice Center and she hopes he is able to bolster other deputies’ training in domestic violence cases.
“We served 42 victims in August and 14 were referrals from [the deputy],” she said.
In 2012, Sherriff Lane Cribb established GMEN with hope that men would hold friends and family members accountable, encourage batterers to seek help and live by example by displaying healthy relationships.
“I’ve noticed it’s always been mostly women stepping up, trying to curb domestic violence and I think it’s time we get men to step up and help out,” Cribb said earlier this year at the launch of the “Safety Now” campaign. “There are so many kids abused we don’t hear about until it’s too late.”
Bourus still wants to see more done to get South Carolina off the list and hopes Georgetown will initiate pilot programs if statewide legislation doesn’t change.
“When I see this ranking, I don’t believe that it is necessarily lack of services, I think it’s abject failure to hold the batterer accountable,” Bourus said. “That’s the bottom line. We’ve got to do a better job holding the perpetrators accountable for their behavior.”
In particular, she said, a lethality assessment could help police determine how dangerous a person is.
“There are some very simple criteria such as threatening partners with weapons, threatening to kill themselves, depression, alcohol or drug consumption, threat or harm to pets,” she said. “We can assess that pretty quickly and we can identify those perpetrators that are lethal.”
There aren’t any plans in Horry or Georgetown counties to initiate a lethality assessment, or other changes to address the crime, but Nadia Black, assistant solicitor in Georgetown County, said that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
“We have a very sound foundation here,” she said. “It would not be difficult to try to make some modifications.”
Prosecuting criminal domestic violence cases can be difficult, said assistant solicitors Ricky Todd and Jackie Smith. Both work in Georgetown County, but Todd previously worked in Horry County.
Both said victims frequently request charges be dropped giving multiple reasons such as love for the person, worrying about children and financial circumstances, Todd said.
Those drop forms were removed from offices in the 14th Judicial Circuit this year, the Island Packet reported.
Black said cases can proceed to trial even if the victim asks to have charges dropped.
“The other side of the coin is that sometimes the affidavits for dismissal are brought forth out of being intimidated to do it,” she said. “Our own witness is against us, sits at the table with the defendant. It is difficult to explain to a jury, but nonetheless you have to do the right thing.”
Todd said trying to fix the issue can be more important than a conviction.
Solicitors use a pretrial intervention program involving community service, counseling and a prison tour, Todd said. It costs $350.
There’s also a domestic abuse course that is more wallet friendly, but still time-consuming, lasting about an hour and a half a week for 26 weeks.
Both have been successful, Todd said, but only if someone wants to make a change.
“They work very well as long as you get them in there and they’re committed to it,” he said. “Shoving someone in a program isn’t going to work, they have to want to do it.”
Contact AMANDA KELLEY at 626-0381 or follow her Twitter @TSN_akelley.