Nobody wants to sit here two years from now, when the 2013 homicide statistics come out, and lament that South Carolina is once again one of the most dangerous places for women.
Keeping that from happening is what folks involved with criminal prosecution and domestic violence have been grappling with since the “When Men Murder Women” report was published by the Violence Policy Center.
The report showed that women in the Palmetto State are murdered at a rate twice the national average, and that our state has the highest homicide rate for women in the country.
Of the 61 women killed in 2011 (the year covered in the report), 93 percent were murdered by someone they knew. And 63 percent of those were killed by husbands, common-law husbands, ex-husbands or boyfriends.
Attorney General Alan Wilson and 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson both have a hand in the prosecution process. But they emphasize that the criminal justice system can’t be the only place these issues are addressed.
“Frankly it’s got to be up to other segments of the community — churches, civic groups, those types of leaders and groups in the community ... even schools,” the solicitor said.
She’s right, and there’s a great network to help spearhead those efforts through the S.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.
The solicitor said the biggest hurdle is victims who are the sole witness to the crime and then don’t cooperate with prosecutors, even if that’s often out of self-preservation.
She said that leads to the cycle of arrest and dismissal, arrest and dismissal. Unfortunately, that cycle often ends with murder.
Folks need to know that even if they saw their daddy hit their momma, that wasn’t OK, and it’s not a behavior they should condone, or perpetuate, Alan Wilson said.
“It’s in all of our best interest for the future so that young boys don’t think it’s acceptable to treat women the way that batterers do, and equally important is to teach women that it’s not acceptable to be in that situation,” Scarlett Wilson said.
The attorney general points out that a simple domestic violence charge carries relatively low bail.
He’s spoken to some legislators about increasing the bond, as well as time in a holding cell, for alleged batterers.
“We don’t have the means to keep people locked up indefinitely,” he said. Nor would many condone that concept. “But at times a longer cooling off period is warranted.”
Maybe that gives the victim a chance to get a plan in place for her and her children’s safety.
The problem can’t be solved through law enforcement alone, Scarlett Wilson said. “It’s got to be a cultural, societal shift, with all the support that goes with it.”
That means a heavy dose of education: for the victims, so they know there are options, and for the offenders, so they recognize and change their behavior, Alan Wilson said.
“This is one thing that everyone from every corner of life can rally around,” he added. “South Carolina has the ability to move these numbers in the right direction.”
Here’s hoping he’s right.