Coalitions hold the key in struggle against CDV

Gov. Nikki Haley signs the criminal domestic violence legislation in Columbia today.Photo by Paul Zoeller/Staff

As first lady of Florida, I had the privilege of lending my voice to help raise awareness about the impact of domestic violence on our families, our communities, and our state.

I will never forget reading a news headline that highlighted the fact that approximately 25 percent of all murders in Florida were related to the crime of domestic violence. And I will never forget the first child I hugged when I toured one of our emergency domestic violence shelters.

To that end, I have spent the past 15 years working in partnership with the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence (FCADV) to increase private revenues to ensure the long term financial sustainability of critical life saving services for domestic violence survivors and their children.

In March, my husband Jeb met with Gov. Nikki Haley where he learned that South Carolina was ranked No. 2 in the nation for the number of women killed by men. He was impressed with Gov. Haley’s determination, leadership and commitment to employ every resource at her disposal to combat this crime that destroys families.

I was pleased to learn that Gov. Haley created a multi-disciplinary Statewide Domestic Violence Task Force to conduct a thorough review process of the systems that interface with both domestic violence victims and perpetrators. I read the Task Force’s reports that included their preliminary findings related to the consistent concern regarding the lack of consistency throughout the state related to uniform data collection, reporting by law enforcement, tailored victim services, and prosecutorial practices. It was clear that the task force’s work is grounded in strengthening victim safety and increasing perpetrator accountability while focusing on the need to dismantle the culture that allows violence to continue.

I was humbled and impressed by the voluminous amount of work the task force accomplished in such a limited time frame.

Recently, Gov. Haley signed into law, groundbreaking legislation that will increase penalties for domestic violence perpetrators in South Carolina. I applaud Gov. Haley and the South Carolina legislature for ensuring that combating domestic violence in the Palmetto State remains a high priority. During the past year, domestic violence has dominated many of the headlines throughout the country and a record number of survivors are seeking assistance from our emergency shelters.

On Aug. 27, I had the pleasure of touring SisterCare, Columbia’s premier local domestic violence shelter. I was humbled to spend time with advocates working in the shelter and learning about the challenges unique to their communities to provide critical emergency services to domestic violence survivors and their children. My most humbling experience during my visit was spending time talking with a domestic violence survivor who shared with me her journey as she worked towards successfully gaining independence and living a violent free life. I was struck by her bravery, determination, perseverance, and unyielding love for her children. Our domestic violence shelters are the heart and soul of preventing and ending domestic violence in our country. South Carolina domestic violence programs need our help to continue serving an unprecedented number of domestic violence victims and their children fleeing their violent homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Please join Gov. Haley, the South Carolina legislature, the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault and me in the fight to end domestic violence by calling 803-256-2900 and asking how you can help with this effort. I look forward to working with each of my friends in South Carolina to ensure every home is a peaceful home.

If you are seeking help for yourself or a loved one experiencing domestic violence, please call the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault at 803-256-2900 or visit www.sccadvasa.org to find your local domestic violence shelter or hotline number.

Columba Bush is the former first lady of Florida and a founding board member of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence Foundation.