by Becky Callaham, Safe Harbor Executive Director
First the bad news: South Carolina consistently ranks at the top for states with highest numbers of deaths due to domestic violence. 2014’s numbers ranked us number two, just barely down from 2013’s number one distinction. Clearly, South Carolina has a domestic violence problem.
Early in the fall, concerned citizens and domestic violence advocates reached out to our state legislative delegation for help. The good news is that they seem to be listening. The House of Representatives convened a subcommittee to hold hearings and hear testimony from professionals, families and stakeholders. We anxiously await a bill that will address some solutions. In the meantime, SC Senator Larry Martin recently sponsored Senate Bill 0003 (co-sponsored by SC Senators Mike Fair and Ross Turner) that will create tougher sentencing for domestic violence offenders, including a critical piece that revokes gun ownership domestic violence offenders.
Domestic violence and guns are a lethal combination, especially in SC. Of the females murdered in SC in 2012, 71% were killed with guns. More than one third of those charged with murder had at least 1 arrest for Criminal Domestic Violence. When there is a firearm in the home, a domestic violence assault is 23 times more likely to result in death than an assault using another weapon or bodily assault. A recent Winthrop University poll found that 79% people in SC support getting guns out of the hands of domestic violence offenders. Kudos to Senators Martin, Fair, and Turner for their leadership and courage to listen to their constituents and to stand up for victims of domestic violence. This bill is not a “gun issue”. It is a homicide prevention issue.
Increasing penalties is only a part of the solution to the decades-old epidemic of domestic violence in South Carolina. Layers of systemic change and additional resources for victims are necessary, and it looks like our legislative delegation is on board. I also commend Senator Thomas Alexander for his assistance in accessing resources to help Safe Harbor open a new shelter for victims and their children in Oconee County. And most importantly, in December, Governor Nikki Haley committed to putting her own “skin in the game” to address domestic violence in South Carolina by appointing a task force that will “get things done”.
I am cautiously optimistic about 2015. I think it could really be a game-changer for victims of domestic violence in South Carolina. Finally, after years and years of being a “quiet crisis”, domestic violence is becoming part of our collective conversation, thanks in part to media outlets including the Greenville News. In 2015, we have the opportunity to do more than just talk about it. Please join me in urging our state leaders to listen and respond to the critical needs of their constituents, as well as supporting our leaders who have already responded to creating a safer SC for women and children. This is a part of SC history I think we all will be proud to witness.
To contact the state senator who represents your region of SC, please visit http://www.scstatehouse.gov/.