South Carolina’s productive path to domestic violence reform

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)

In 2014, South Carolina was ranked second in the nation for women killed by men. This is a startling statistic that doesn’t accurately reflect how great our state truly is. So 2015 had to be the year that we said “no more” and took action. This year South Carolinians have joined together to put an end to this heinous crime once and for all.

JANUARY: Minutes before this year’s legislative session was set to begin on Tuesday, Jan. 13, I stood alongside sheriffs, police chiefs, solicitors, victims’ advocacy groups, state law enforcement leaders, constitutional officers and members of the General Assembly to hold a press conference to highlight the need for domestic violence reform. The audience was filled with uniformed officers, concerned citizens, families who had lost loved ones as well as domestic violence survivors. I was proud to be standing among so many friends and colleagues for such an important event to kick off the new year. We stood united in stating that this needed to be the year we passed a comprehensive reform package.

Later that month, Gov. Nikki Haley created a domestic violence task force to address the cultural issues surrounding domestic violence in our state. The attorney general’s office is proud to be a part of this team that works diligently to change the culture of domestic violence in South Carolina.

FEBRUARY: On Thursday, Feb. 5, I spoke to a group of faculty members on USC’s campus about the severity of domestic violence in South Carolina and what we can do about it. Just a few hours later, Dr. Raja Fayad, a professor at USC, was shot to death by his ex-wife, Sunghee Kwon, in his office before she eventually turned the gun on herself. This tragic event served as a chilling reminder that we needed to do something immediately.

MARCH: On March 3, the S.C. Senate passed a bill to reform laws regarding criminal domestic violence. On March 26, I participated in a town hall meeting with Sen. Thomas McElveen, Rep. Robert Ridgeway and Rep. David Weeks in Sumter. I met a domestic violence survivor, Shakia Spears, who displayed bravery beyond words for sharing her story of survival in front of 200 people. Not only that, but the audience included her ex-husband who raised his hand and identified himself while sitting in the second row. Even as he tried to intimidate her, she wanted to share her story so that she could help others who might be too afraid to speak out.

APRIL: On April 20, it was announced that The Post and Courier had won a much-deserved Pulitzer Prize for its series entitled, “Till Death Do Us Part.” These articles 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 heart-breaking. On April 16, H.3433, the House version of S.3, passed the House for the first time.

MAY: In May, a critical compromise on S.3, the Domestic Violence Reform Act, was reached among legislative leaders, allowing it to be amended in the House and Senate before receiving final concurrence in the House on May 28. Gov. Nikki Haley signed the bill into law on June 4.

This wouldn’t have been possible without the efforts of various victims’ advocates and the leadership of Speaker Jay Lucas, House Judiciary Chairman Greg Delleney, Senate Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin, Reps.Shannon Erickson and David Weeks, Sens. Greg Hembree, Katrina Shealy and Brad Hutto, along with many others in both chambers.

South Carolina is fortunate to have legislative leaders who made it a top priority to produce a bipartisan bill that would make a real difference in our state.

It’s only been five months since I stood in the lobby of the Statehouse and asked the General Assembly to take action this session. A lot of people with very strong opinions, who I never thought would budge, have done just that, and I’m very proud of the progress we have made.

On Tuesday, Oct. 6 at 11 a.m., my office will host the 18th annual Silent Witness ceremony. During this somber event, I will read aloud the names of all South Carolinians who lost their lives as a result of domestic violence during the previous year. While it is never easy to read these names, something will be different about the ceremony this year.

We can seek comfort in the fact that we made a difference this year in South Carolina’s fight against domestic violence. There is no better way that comes to mind to honor those who have lost their lives to this tragic crime than knowing we’ve passed meaningful reform that could save others.

This battle has been about creating a better tomorrow for all South Carolinians. Our laws reflect our values, and until recently, our values were not accurately represented by our laws.

This year, South Carolinians said, “No more.” We will no longer tolerate being ranked one of the most dangerous states in the nation when it comes to domestic violence.

This battle won’t be won with legislation alone, but South Carolina has taken a giant step forward in the fight against domestic violence.

Alan Wilson, a Republican, is the attorney general of South Carolina.