Politics & Government

Report: SC still among worst for domestic violence among states, but slowly improving

South Carolina continues to be one of the deadliest states in the country for women due to domestic violence.

But strides have been made, according to a new report by a state task force.

The state ranks sixth-worst in the nation in domestic-violence homicides, with a rate that is more than 1 1/2 times the national average, according to 2016 FBI data.

South Carolina, which as recently as 2015 claimed the top spot on the list of deadliest states for women, reported a homicide rate of 1.88 deaths per 100,000 women, according to the Violence Policy Center, a Washington, D.C.,-based organization. But that is down from 3.03 deaths in 1998, when the nonprofit group published its first report.

“We are sixth, not first, and that is movement in the right direction,” said state Rep. Shannon Erickson, a Beaufort Republican and member of the S.C. Domestic Violence Advisory Committee. “We have accomplished a lot, but we have more work to do.”

In 2015, then-Gov. Nikki Haley formed the task force to raise awareness about domestic violence and suggest policies to curb it. Lawmakers that year also overhauled S.C. laws, increasing the penalties for offenders and passing a mandatory lifetime ban on gun possession for those convicted of domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature.

Lawmakers also provided money for prosecutors to handle domestic violence cases. Previously, South Carolina was one of only three states that relied on police officers to prosecute some domestic violence cases.

“We ask our police officers to protect us in our schools, in our homes, in our businesses. ... We should not ask them to argue nuances of constitutional law in a courtroom,” said 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone, the task force’s chairman. “It’s now being prosecuted by lawyers and professional prosecutors throughout the state. So we have seen concrete improvements.”

However, education efforts and victims’ services continue to be insufficient, according to the task force, which released its 2018 report Wednesday.

Inconsistent, unreliable data also frequently hampers attempts to find solutions, according to the report.

“We need to provide funding for extensive data gathering and analysis, and we would like to use the University of South Carolina’s Department of Criminology to do this,” Erickson said. “The best efforts of well-intentioned people have been thwarted by a lack of data. We must have an in-depth study of victimization, domestic-related crimes and recidivism.”

The task force recommends more spending on domestic-violence prevention in schools and communities. It also suggests lawmakers expand the definition of “household member” to protect victims of dating violence. State law now limits the definition of household member to a spouse, former spouse, couples who are cohabiting or have a child in common.

“We can improve the numbers,” said state Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, a task force member. “We see we are improving ... so let’s continue to work on what we’re doing ... and let’s put the funding out there.”

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Tom Barton covers South Carolina politics for The State. He has spent more than a decade covering local governments and politicians in Iowa and South Carolina, and has won awards from the S.C. Press Association and Iowa Newspaper Association for public service and feature writing.