Editorials

Tougher domestic violence penaltiesmay reduce number of women killed

AP

South Carolina may break away from its shameful ranking as the worst state in the nation for deadly violence against women, thanks to a new law relating to prosecution of domestic violence cases. The law increases penalties for offenders and gives prosecutors more options, which, over time, could reduce the number of women killed by men.

The statistics are dreadful. According to the Violence Policy Center, the number of women killed by men – 57 known deaths in 2013 – was more than twice the average for the nation. The rate is 2.32 women killed per 100,000 population. The 57 women killed in 2013 compared to 50 in 2012, which ranked the Palmetto State second worst. Over 18 years of reports, the state has been in the 10 worst states and four times ranked the worst.

After wide discussion in the General Assembly, legislators approved changes in the law and Gov. Nikki Haley signed it. A task force appointed by the governor “has been meeting all year on domestic violence [and] issued dozens of recommendations last month, including training more 911 operators, improving [crime scene] documentation and increasing the number of shelters statewide,” Harrison Cahill of The State newspaper reported.

Domestic violence is a difficult crime for law enforcement officers to investigate and prosecute. The victims, most often but not always, are women who know the man who has physically hurt them. Evidence often is “she said, he said” and the victim may decide against continuing with prosecution. In the cases that have not yet resulted in deadly violence, victims say they didn’t realize that calling the police would result in their partner being arrested.

“The human heart is in play,” says Scott Hixson, chief deputy solicitor for the 15th Circuit of Georgetown and Horry counties. The entire relationship of a couple makes domestic violence unique. Finances often are involved, and abuse of alcohol and illegal drugs. Prosecution of domestic violence often comes down to the continued willingness of a victim to stay with the case through testimony in court.

In no way is this to suggest that any victim of any crime is responsible for being hurt. Law enforcement officers, including solicitors, are still sorting through the new law. It’s too early to determine the impact of the law, but Hixson is cautiously optimistic that tougher penalties and more options for punishment will have a positive impact. The changes “put more tools in the legal toolbox.”

Domestic violence is one of the several violent acts against women, which plague human society around the world and across demographics of economics and race. Violence against women includes dating abuse, female infanticide, forced marriage, forced pregnancy, genocidal rape, breast ironing, honor killing, genital mutilation, pregnancy from rape and human trafficking (forced prostitution).

On the federal level, President Obama signed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, which passed the House 286-138.

Many House Republicans had hoped to limit protections for gays, lesbians, transgender individuals, Native Americans and immigrants. The stripped version failed in the House and the Senate’s all-inclusive version passed.

South Carolina’s improved law won’t stop domestic violence but it’s a step forward in curbing violence against women and potentially saving human lives. Gov. Haley’s task force should continue to work for changes and legislators should listen and act.

S.C. female victims killed by domestic violence:

▪ 2013 victims: 57

▪ Average age:| 44

▪ Most common weapon | 60 percent killed by guns; 6 killed by knives, other cutting instruments; 2 killed by blunt object; 9 by bodily force

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