It is no surprise to find glitches in the administration of the state’s new law to fight criminal domestic abuse. Such cases have been ineffectively dealt with for decades, and old habits die hard.
But while it is discouraging that seemingly obvious measures are not so obvious to some law enforcement agencies, it is encouraging that Gov. Nikki Haley’s domestic violence task force is staying on top of the issue and identifying areas that need clarification.
South Carolina has consistently been at or near the top of the list of states where the most women are killed by men. It is the sixth-most-violent state in the country, and about half of the state’s crimes of violence are related to domestic violence.
So yes, a learning curve is to be expected, but it is also vital that the new law be interpreted consistently and correctly as soon as possible.
The task force, more than 130 people representing more than 65 agencies, recently discussed problems in enforcement. For example, the victims and their alleged abusers should be separated from each other when they are questioned. Some law enforcement agencies are not making sure that happens.
Further, some agencies aren’t taking adequate steps to protect children. They should document on incident reports whether a child was present when the alleged abuse took place. They should also interview the child. Penalties for domestic violence can be stiffer when children are present.
Some law enforcement agencies don’t arrest suspected batterers unless the victim intends to press charges. That’s a big mistake. Of course it is more difficult to prosecute a case without the victim’s help, but it is worth the effort if it could result in stopping an abuser. Victims of abuse might simply be afraid to press charges.
The Aiken County Sheriff in July instructed his deputies not to file domestic violence charges without the victim’s assurance that he or she would follow through with prosecution. The sheriff said he was trying to apply the new CDV law.
If he could so misinterpret the law, the wording might need to be amended. At the very least, all agencies should be made aware of the intent of the law on this issue — and on any issue that is causing confusion.
One inconsistency that particularly alarmed Gov. Haley is that not all 911 operators are trained to deal with domestic violence calls. As she said, “If they don’t know the right questions to ask, then the officer doesn’t know what they’re walking into.”
And the committee discussed the need for more prosecutors in South Carolina so that police aren’t put in the position of facing trained defense lawyers in cases of misdemeanor domestic violence.
The Post and Courier’s series on domestic violence in South Carolina inspired the S.C. Legislature to enact a law to strengthen penalties for domestic abusers and to keep guns out of their hands.
The intent of legislators and the governor is clear: to end domestic violence.
But it is also clear that some agencies need more guidance — and that any fuzzy language in the law needs to be fixed.
Now. Before any more people die or are injured by their partners.