South Carolina no longer ranks as the most deadly state in the nation for women at the hands of men, the most recent national report shows.
The drop to fifth place comes even though it’s still too early to see much impact from the state’s two-year-long effort to stem the death toll, which is nearly double the national average.
Every year for the past 18 years, the Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C., has released a study titled “When Men Murder Women,” and every year South Carolina has ranked in the top 10, holding the worst spot four times, including last year.
This year’s report, released Tuesday, shows the state’s rate of men killing women dropped, falling from 2.32 per 100,000 in 2013 to 1.73 per 100,000 in 2014, the latest year for which thorough national data is available.
Still, South Carolina’s rate of killing women remains markedly higher than the national average of 1.08.
The improved ranking surprised Elmire Raven, executive director of My Sister’s House, whose shelter for battered women still has months when it fills up and must run waiting lists.
“If it’s one death, it’s too many,” Raven said. “But I’m happy we’re no longer No. 1 at least.”
The state began efforts to curtail the death toll for women in late 2014 in reaction to The Post and Courier’s Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative series “Till Death Do Us Part.” The series revealed that more than 300 women had been killed in domestic violence over a decade while state lawmakers did next to nothing to stem the bloodshed. That death toll was more than three times higher than that suffered by the state’s servicemen and women in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.
Experts say the increased public attention domestic violence received in the four months of 2014 following the series’ publication likely played a role in South Carolina’s improved ranking.
It’s still too soon to know if the sweeping legal changes lawmakers enacted the year after the series ran have had any impact. Those laws include harsher punishments related to the degree of violence involved and the loss of gun ownership rights for those convicted of domestic abuse.
The new laws went into effect in 2015, a year after the killings documented in the latest Violence Policy Center study.
The drop in ranking came as encouraging news to Christan Rainey, whose stepfather gunned down his mother and all four of his siblings 10 years ago this month. Rainey, a North Charleston firefighter, said he’s spoken to many law enforcement officers who expect continued improvement, thanks to the new laws.
“Our laws didn’t reflect our values before,” Rainey said. “Now I feel our laws do reflect our values, which is morally important.”
Rainey thinks the improved ranking is due to better awareness of domestic violence as well as preventative efforts by advocacy groups, including the one he founded in 2013, M.A.D. USA, which has begun educating schoolchildren about healthy relationships.
Alaska now is the worst state in the nation for women killed by men. It has held that spot before. Rounding out the top five are Louisiana, Nevada, Oklahoma and then South Carolina. The safest state for women was Hawaii, followed by Illinois.
Nationwide in 2014, 1,613 females were slain by males.
Firearms, especially handguns, were the weapons of choice in more than half of the killings.
In 2010, Therese D’Encarnacao’s husband of 13 years walked into their North Charleston bathroom, shot her in the head and then killed himself. Today, she is among domestic violence survivors who applaud reforms but see far more work needed.
“I’m glad things are looking better, but they’re still pretty bad,” D’Encarnacao said.
Kristen Rand, the policy center’s legislative director, said in a statement, “Guns in the hands of abusers can escalate domestic violence to homicide in the blink of an eye. Removing guns from a domestic violence situation is crucial.”
A ban on guns for those convicted of even misdemeanor domestic violence is one of the reforms South Carolina lawmakers adopted last year.
Becky Callaham, executive director of Safe Harbor, a Greenville-based shelter for women, said, “I’m glad we’re not number one in the nation for 2014.”
However, she added, “We continue to be in the top of the worst again. ... Each one of those numbers represents someone’s sister, mother, friend.”
Republican Sen. Larry Martin of Pickens helped lead the effort to strengthen the state’s domestic violence laws. He also fought to strip those convicted of domestic violence of their right to have firearms. Passage of that gun ban helped lead to his defeat in the last Republican primary.
Despite his loss, Martin said he’s pleased to have helped protect women and others at risk from domestic violence. The state has made great strides in the past two years to not only prosecute domestic violence and protect victims, it’s moving to change the underlying social attitudes that tolerate domestic violence, he said.
The state is moving in the right direction, Martin said, but “it’s going to take a few years to see how it plays out.”