For the first time since national researchers began tracking data in 1996, South Carolina no longer holds a top-10 spot in the list of states where women are killed by men at a high rate.
With 44 women slain by men in 2018, the most recent year for which federal data was available, the Palmetto State ranks 11th in the nation, according to the annual "When Men Murder Women" report published Wednesday.
"I have very guarded optimism," said Sara Barber, executive director of the S.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. "I hope that's the beginning of us continuing to go lower."
With 1.68 in every 100,000 women killed by men in 2018, the state is still above the national average of 1.28. Alaska saw the highest rate at 3.40, while Iowa's six homicides gave it a rate of .38.
The Washington, D.C.-based Violence Policy Center has compiled the report annually for the past 24 years, using the FBI's Supplementary Homicide Report data of killings that involve a single male attacker and single female victim.
And every year, South Carolina has hovered in the top 10 spots, taking first place four times. When The Post and Courier published its Pulitzer-winning investigation into the high rate in 2014, "Till death do us part," state legislators vowed to reform the system. They enacted some additional protections for victims, but compromised on banning low-level offenders from owning guns.
For some, the patterns are as concerning as the rates. Half of the slayings arose from arguments between the victim and her killer. Nearly all of the victims — 98 percent — knew their killers, and over half of them had romantic relationships.
Among the dead was Tennille Grant, a 41-year-old North Charleston woman who was fatally stabbed in the neck in April 2018, allegedly by a former boyfriend who had stalked, harassed and abused her. Also killed was 52-year-old Silvia Flores, another Charleston County woman who was shot to death at her home in May that year by an ex-boyfriend who later led police on a high-speed chase before killing himself. And there was Rashad Patton, 37, who was gunned down by her husband during a murder-suicide at their Berkeley County home in November 2018.
This year's report highlighted a nationwide disparity: Black women are three times as likely as White women to be killed by men, making up 14 percent of the population but 32 percent of the 2018 homicides included in the 2018 data. Black women are nine times as likely to be murdered by an acquaintance than by strangers, and intimate partner violence is the leading cause of premature death for Black women aged 15 to 44.
It's a sobering statistic, but not a surprising one, said Jada Charley, president of the SAFE Homes Rape Crisis Coalition.
"The fear in the African American community is that any type of additional criminal laws or criminalization disproportionately affect us," Charley said. "I think African American victims all over the nation have fears around calling law enforcement. They fear for their own safety, they have the fear of not being believed, fear of what happens involving the criminal justice system, fear that they or their partner could be murdered by law enforcement."
The solution, she contends, is to focus on local support programs that understand their community's needs and help victims without relying on the justice system's assistance.
For My Sister's House CEO Tosha Connors, that's meant addressing violence even before it becomes physical. Since the pandemic began, online counseling and other services have helped them reach victims who would risk escalated abuse if they left their attackers for a shelter. Survivors in marginalized communities often have to contend with expectations that they'll be loyal and independent, she said, which makes it difficult to reach out for mental aid that could help them escape a relationship safely.
South Carolina rallied to curtail its 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, including harsher penalties for offenders. Then-Gov. Nikki Haley also 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. And officials cautioned that it might be a few years before the state saw the benefits of these new measures. Advocates are hopeful that the state's slip from its ignominious presence in the top 10 is a sign those changes are starting to pay off.