South Carolina needs tougher domestic violence law

Lawmakers, law enforcement officials and others join Attorney General Alan Wilson at rally for domestic violence reform in the rotunda of the South Carolina Statehouse Tuesday January 13, 2015. (Grace Beahm/Staff)

BY ALAN WILSON

Over the past two years, it has become painfully obvious that South Carolina has a massive domestic violence problem. Countless statistics and national headlines painted our state in a negative light. It’s difficult to treat a problem this large; however, there are initial steps to help address this in the criminal justice system as well as in our communities.

In 2014, South Carolina was ranked second in the nation for women killed by men. In addition, 46 individuals lost their lives as a result of domestic violence and 36,000 domestic violence incidents were reported. Keep in mind, those are just the ones that are actually reported, we know that many more go unreported each day.

Our laws reflect our values, and currently, our values are not adequately represented in our laws. In South Carolina, you can beat your dog and get five years, but beat your spouse and only get 30 days. As a state, we should be sick and tired of being ranked as one of the most violent and dangerous states when it comes to domestic violence.

The Post and Courier ran a series entitled, “Till death do us part.” The series gave an unfiltered, realistic view into the severity of this crime. Not only were people able to read statistics and facts, but they were able to hear stories from survivors. Hearing survivors speak of their experiences can be extremely inspiring and eye opening. At the same time, hearing from loved ones who have lost a family member or friend to this heinous behavior is gut wrenching and infuriating.

Domestic violence isn’t a pleasant topic of conversation; it isn’t something we want to discuss. However, it is extremely important that we have these conversations throughout our state, in our communities, and even within our own families. Public awareness is a key component in the fight to end this reckless crime in our state. Rather than focusing on the past, we should be discussing what we can do to save lives in South Carolina by ending domestic violence.

This January, my goal was to make a statement loud and clear that enough was enough — we need immediate legislative action. I stood alongside sheriffs, police chiefs, solicitors, victims’ advocacy groups, state law enforcement leaders, constitutional officers and members of the General Assembly as we held a press conference to highlight this urgent need. Members of the General Assembly included leaders from both parties and both chambers. The audience was filled with uniformed officers, concerned citizens, families who have lost loved ones and domestic violence survivors. Volunteers held up the red and blue silhouettes used in our annual Silent Witness ceremony, which represent the lives lost to domestic violence in South Carolina. I was proud to stand among so many friends and colleagues for such an important event to kick off the New Year.

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month. This is a time for reflection, not just on the past, but also on the progress we have made in this battle.

The Silent Witness ceremony will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 6 at 11:30 a.m. Hopefully, by that time we are celebrating the passage of a domestic violence reform package with strengthened laws and tougher penalties for repeat offenders. There is no better way to honor those who have lost their lives to this tragic crime than passing meaningful reform that could save others.

2015 is a new year for South Carolina in the fight against domestic violence. It is my hope that this is the year we say no more, and take a stand against this disastrous crime once and for all. With tougher legislation, and increased public awareness, we can make a difference and keep South Carolina a safe place to live, work and raise a family.

Alan Wilson, a Republican, is South Carolina’s attorney general.