Nikki Haley to domestic violence panel: ‘This is personal’

Gov. Nikki Haley

COLUMBIA — A panel appointed to change the culture of domestic violence in South Carolina was told by Gov. Nikki Haley to take the statewide epidemic personally.

The South Carolina Criminal Domestic Violence Task Force had its inaugural meeting Tuesday, an historic moment that Haley said eventually would have a long-lasting effect on South Carolina.

“It’s going to be a lot of work, but this will be incredibly fulfilling,” Haley said. “This is personal. I want you to take it personal. I take it personal. If we fail, someone dies.”

The panel’s meeting comes within a week of two domestic violence murder-suicides in South Carolina. Last Thursday, Sunghee Kwon fatally shot her ex-husband, Raja Fayad, on the University of South Carolina campus where he was a professor, then killed herself with the last bullet in her gun. On Sunday, Wadmalaw Island resident Termaine Frasier shot and killed his partner, Kennitha LaBoard, and her mother, Althea Goss, before turning the gun on himself.

Haley reiterated Tuesday that the task, which includes about 40 victims’ advocates, law enforcement officials and Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal, will need to confront the culture that contributes to the state being among the deadliest in the nation for women at the hands of husbands and partners.

Haley encouraged the panel to find ways for the community to talk about domestic violence on a daily basis, to have victims feel more comfortable with coming forward. Everyone knows a victim, but no one talks about the issue, she said.

“What you hear is whispers,” Haley said. “People whisper about domestic violence. They pray about it, but they don’t talk about it. If we are not talking out loud about it, we are denying something that is very real in South Carolina.”

Bryan Stirling — director of the Department of Corrections and a former prosecutor — said one of the aspects law enforcement can look into is how it responds to cases of domestic violence.

As a member of the panel, he said he’d be looking into how law enforcement officers could benefit from training that helps them help a victim and how to diffuse the situation.

“Sometimes, that’s just (the victim’s) normal life and they don’t know any better,” Stirling said. “It’s a cycle that they saw growing up.”

He added he and Toal discussed how officers can also help the prosecution aspect of the case by learning how to gather strong evidence.

While the task force gathers data from throughout the state, the Legislature is also trying to strengthen the state’s criminal domestic violence laws. The Senate was scheduled to discuss its bill Tuesday. Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, has said that the task force’s work will complement the General Assembly’s determination to better protect abuse victims.

The bills in the Legislature and Haley’s executive order that created the task force follow last year’s “Till Death Do Us Part” series by The Post and Courier, which revealed that over the past decade, 300 women in the state were killed by their husbands and boyfriends.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.