Urgency on domestic violence

The South Carolina House of Representatives is empty after the end of a legislative session in which a dozen bills to address domestic violence died for lack of action. (Grace Beahm/Staff)

The Post and Courier's five-day "Till Death Do Us Part" series about South Carolina's stunning failure to reduce the number of women killed by men is a wake-up call to legislators, law enforcement, courts of law and community leaders of all stripes.

If they do not get serious about the curse of criminal domestic violence, it will not change.

As the investigative team aptly points out, many of the measures that have been successful in other states can be implemented here at little or no cost.

And South Carolina doesn't have to fly blind. We've been so slow to focus on the problem that there are plenty of programs we can borrow from elsewhere that have already been vetted. Community leaders need to sound the alarm and the public needs to deliver a message to its elected and appointed officials that the status quo is unacceptable.

The Legislature, for example, must stop equivocating. Penalties for CDV perpetrators should be stiffened significantly, and gun laws amended. At the very least, domestic abusers should be barred from having guns.

The various courts need to communicate with each other about offenders. Law enforcement agencies need to use a uniform template for investigating CDV incidents so that information is complete.

And children in households where there is domestic violence need special attention from the appropriate agencies.

House Speaker Bobby Harrell has said that he will appoint a task force to study potential changes to the state's domestic violence laws. That's a good first step, but a larger study of criminal domestic violence and how it is handled by all involved is also necessary.

Committed state leaders can make a difference. During his tenure as S.C. attorney general from 2003-2011, Henry McMaster named criminal domestic violence the state's worst crime problem.

He encouraged lawyers to act as pro bono prosecutors in those cases, and he later lobbied the Legislature for a one-time monetary allotment to help each county provide a specific contact for CDV cases. He also asked judges to regularly set aside a day to handle only those cases. Those initiatives measurably improved the conviction rate.

But our series, which ends today, clearly indicates the need for broader changes if the state is to shed its worst-in-the-country domestic violence ranking.

Every step taken in South Carolina to prevent criminal domestic violence, to care for victims and punish perpetrators and to educate the public about the problem is a step in the right direction.

But the problem is too big to be tamed by an effort here and a program there. It needs a statewide, interdisciplinary strategy - and it needs leaders committed to implementing it.

South Carolina is considered among the best states to visit, to enjoy the outdoors, to start a new business and to retire in.

It shouldn't continue to be the state where women are most likely to be killed by their husbands or boyfriends.