Charleston’s Week Without ViolenceSouth Carolina is America’s deadliest state for women. Help us turn the tide!
On September 15th, South Carolina was ranked the deadliest state in the US for women for the fourth time in 17 years.
With 57 women killed in a year's time, the Post & Courier reports, our state's murder rate of women killed by men is more than twice the national average. According to the latest full-year figures available, it says, South Carolina has a homicide rate nearly 2 1/2 times the nation’s rate of about one woman killed per 100,000.
Shining a light on a dark issue
The Post & Courier won the Pulitzer Prize for its August 2014 series about domestic violence in South Carolina—and deservedly so.
Powerfully written, the series told the stories of domestic violence survivors along with some of the 300 who did not survive. It shone a spotlight on a lack of action by South Carolina's legislators in a state with a culture that's unusually conducive to the abuse of women.
The series stirred responses across the nation. (To put it in perspective, the last time the Post & Courier won a Pulitzer Prize was in 1925.) And the series did what even the deaths of hundreds of women could not do: it spurred the South Carolina legislature into action.
But what has been done since the series was published is not enough. Not by a long shot.
The YWCA takes a stand
YWCA USA created an annual Week Without Violence™ 20 years ago. For two decades the campaign has motivated people across America to take action against all forms of violence—including physical abuse, sexual assault, emotional abuse, economic abuse, and more—committed against people of every race, gender, age group, religion, and socioeconomic level.
This year the campaign—in which the YWCA of Greater Charleston will again take part—will focus attention on domestic violence. Sadly, our city has an even more urgent need in this regard than many other American communities.
At the time the Post & Courier’s series was written, women were killed by men at a rate of one every 12 days. That’s three times more than the number of South Carolina’s soldiers who were killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Leading the death tally? Greenville, Columbia, and Charleston.
Yvette Cade was lit on fire by her boyfriend in 2005. She survived with third-degree burns over 63% of her body, and went on to share her story on the Oprah Winfrey Show. In the photo above, she shares her story with students at the Polk State Lakeland Student Center in Florida.
A culture that hides abuse
When the series was published, the Post & Courier noted that all 46 counties in South Carolina had at least one animal shelter for stray dogs and cats, but the entire state had only 18 domestic violence shelters to help women escape domestic abuse: grossly inadequate in a state with 36,000 recorded incidents of domestic abuse every year.
And that's just the number of recorded incidents.
The culture of the South is thought to be particularly conducive to domestic abuse and violence. The Post & Courier reported that four of the ten states with the worst rates of men killing women were in the South: Tennessee, West Virginia, Louisiana, and topping the list, South Carolina.
A few reasons for South Carolina's top ranking even among other Southern states? Ours is a pro-gun state, hindered by ineffective domestic violence laws, where well-intended religious organizations may counsel women to be submissive to their husbands… and where what happens inside the home is too often considered a private matter.
"We have the notion that what goes on between a couple is just between the couple and is none of our business," the Post & Courier quotes 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, chief prosecutor for Charleston and Berkeley Counties, as saying. "Where that analysis goes wrong is we have to remember that couple is training their little boy that this is how he treats women and training their little girl that this is what she should expect from her man. The cycle is just perpetual."
Hope for the future
Last year, the maximum sentence for a first domestic abuse conviction in South Carolina was 30 days. In other Southern states, like Mississippi and Tennessee, it was six months, or in the case of Georgia and Alabama, one year.
Why is this so important? For one thing, the Post & Courier noted that studies have shown the risk of being killed by an angry husband or boyfriend decreases after three of months of separation, and drops sharply after a year.
Now that the series has gotten the attention of South Carolina’s government leaders, the tide has been turning at last—slowly, but in the right direction.
In January, Governor Nikki Haley created a task force to change South Carolina's culture of domestic violence tolerance. The recommendations of this task force, which is made up of victims, advocates, members of law enforcement, and representatives from state agencies, are expected by the end of the year.
In June, the governor signed a new law that forces repeat domestic abusers to face stronger penalties, including a lifetime gun ban for the worst offenders and an automatic three- or ten-year gun ban for other cases.
While some say the bill was watered down as it passed through the South Carolina House and Senate, the new law is an improvement on the past. Domestic violence cases will now be slotted into one of four categories based on circumstances and severity, with those convicted in the top category facing up to 20 years in prison. The lowest category will come with a maximum sentence of 90 days in jail and a fine of $1,000 to $2,500.
And importantly for the future, lawmakers and task force members have also suggested programs in South Carolina’s public schools to teach children that domestic violence isn't right.
Not only could such programs help stop the cycle of violence against women, it could protect the children themselves. A recent study in Charleston County found that domestic abusers are seldom charged for subjecting children to violence in their homes, and that many police officers were confused by how child endangerment laws applied to domestic violence situations.
How you can helpMore needs to be done—much more.
How can you help make that happen? And how can you help the women you know in the meantime?
First of all, any help you can give, no matter how small it may seem to you, can help save lives. Here are just a few options:
Together we can make a difference.