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Despite reforms, SC still ranks among nation's deadliest states for women

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Friends and family gather at the Ravenel Mobile Home Park on May 17, 2016 after two women and a girl were fatally shot and another woman was wounded during a domestic violence episode. The episode was among 48 involving women that year, earning South Carolina a ranking as the nation's sixth deadliest state for women.  

Despite sweeping reforms, South Carolina stubbornly remains among the nation’s deadliest states for women even as its fatality rate has inched slightly down, a new report says.

With 48 women killed in a year's time, South Carolina ranks as the sixth-worst in the country for its rate of women killed by men, one notch better than the fifth-place slot it held last year, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Violence Policy Center.  

While that’s an improvement, the state has been unable to slip its ignominious spot among the nation’s top-10 offenders — a title it has held for the entire two decades that the Violence Policy Center has been compiling its annual study, “When Men Murder Women.”

Four times South Carolina has been rated the nation's deadliest state for women, most recently in 2015.

The latest rankings are based on 2016 data, the latest year for which information is available, and are the first to fully reflect the impact of changes enacted to the state's domestic violence laws in the wake of The Post and Courier’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Till death do us part” series. Among other things, those reforms included harsher punishments and the loss of gun ownership rights for those convicted of domestic abuse.

Becky Callaham, director of the Safe Harbor network of shelters in the Upstate, said incremental progress has been made but the state still has a long way to go in curbing the bloodshed from domestic abuse.

"Sixth in the nation is nothing to be proud of at all," she said. "It's nothing to plan a parade around or to pat ourselves on the back over."

In the most recent report, Alaska topped the deadliest states' list, as it did last year. It was followed by Louisiana, Nevada, Arkansas, Tennessee and then South Carolina. In all, more than 1,800 women died across the nation at the hands of men in 2016, the Violence Policy Center study found. 

The Palmetto State's homicide rate for women remains well above the nation as a whole, with nearly two women killed per 100,000. 

The Violence Policy Center report includes all women killed by men, but domestic violence drives most of the bloodshed. Some 95 percent of South Carolina victims knew their killers, and 69 percent were slain by current or former husbands or boyfriends, the report stated.

Nearly six in 10 were shot to death. 

Black women represented a disproportionate number of those killed, making up nearly half of the death toll in a state where African Americans account for 27 percent of the population.

A gruesome toll

Among the dead in South Carolina was Deborah Rogers, a 50-year-old Berkeley County woman who died after her live-in boyfriend sliced her throat. Also killed was Quadeedrah Clinton, a 38-year-old mother of five who was shot to death during a confrontation with her boyfriend, who now faces a murder charge.

And there was Kristina Burroughs, a 40-year-old Horry County woman who was shot and killed by her boyfriend, who then gunned down her two young nieces before taking his own life.

Christan Rainey of North Charleston became a vocal advocate for change after his stepfather killed his mother and all four of his younger siblings in 2006. Rainey said he is troubled by the continued pace of killings, but he is also encouraged by the efforts to combat domestic violence and a growing willingness to discuss solutions to a problem that lingered in the shadows for many years.

“Domestic violence is something that is being talked about more now,” he said. “And I think we will continue to see these numbers go down.”

The state rallied to curtail the death toll in late 2014 in reaction to The Post and Courier’s “Till death do us part" series, which revealed that more than 300 women had been killed in domestic violence over a decade while state lawmakers did little to stem the bloodshed. The following year, a number of legislative measures were enacted, and then-Gov. Nikki Haley appointed a statewide task force to study domestic violence deaths.

Other changes, including the hiring and training of additional prosecutors to ensure domestic violence cases were being properly handled in lower-level courts, didn't go into effect until 2016, the year documented in the latest Violence Policy Center report.

State Corrections Director Bryan Stirling, who chaired a subcommittee of the governor's task force, said these changes were important and their benefits will likely become clearer with time. 

"I think it will be take a couple of years to see this," he said. "You can't change a culture overnight. To change a culture takes a lot."

Sara Barber, executive director of the S.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, said many of the patterns that have contributed to South Carolina's gruesome death toll remain. Domestic violence victims still need more access to shelters, child care and affordable housing. Advocates need more resources to do meaningful prevention work as well, particularly among the young, to keep the next generation from repeating the same mistakes of the past, she said.

Reach Glenn Smith at 843-937-5556. Follow him on Twitter @glennsmith5.

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