Opinion Extra

Victims of domestic violence need our help

Presenters hold silhouettes representing victims of domestic violence during the annual South Carolina Silent Witness Story ceremony.
Presenters hold silhouettes representing victims of domestic violence during the annual South Carolina Silent Witness Story ceremony. online@thestate.com

Emma and Eric were in a relationship just more than six months when he started to accuse her of cheating, call her all day demanding to know exactly where she was and show up at her place of work demanding to see her. He started telling her she spent too much time with her family and that she needed to spend more time at home.

Just after they got engaged, Emma had to work late unexpectedly, and her cell phone died, but when she got home, Eric didn’t believe her. He became irate and hit her. He apologized after he cooled down and promised it would never happen again. By now Emma was isolated from her family, so she didn’t feel like she had anyone to talk to, and as much as she wanted to get away from him, she stayed.

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The abuse escalated. Emma hid this from her family, friends and co-workers. Emma decided one day that she could no longer live like this, and she told Eric she was leaving him. She tried to file for a protection order, but there was a fee, and Eric had frozen the accounts, which were all in his name. Emma had left in a hurry and didn’t have any cash. She didn’t want her family to know what she was going through, so she looked for a shelter for battered women, but they were all full.

Emma is a not an actual person, but I know her. As a social worker, I have encountered her too many times. She is a symbol for the victims of domestic violence who need to be empowered, who need the help of attorneys and the caring citizens in the community to help escape these abusive relationships. Emma doesn’t represent just women but men too, not just heterosexuals but also victims who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

In November, Alaska’s U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan introduced the Pro Bono Work to Empower and Represent Act, or POWER Act. This bill seeks to provide free legal services to victims as well as shelter, transportation and care for their children. By getting attorneys to volunteer their services, it will raise awareness about the needs of domestic-violence victims and empower them to move forward in life and leave the past behind them.

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This legislation and the ideas behind it are especially important here in South Carolina, which ranks first in the nation — and in the past decade has ranked consistently in the top 10 — for domestic-violence incidents that ended in the death of a woman.

Every year, more than 36,000 victims report a domestic-violence incident to police in South Carolina. In 2015, the domestic-violence partners of the S.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault provided shelter to 2,769 victims of domestic violence. They provided counseling, court advocacy and other support services to 19,414 victims and answered more than 18,000 hotline calls from victims in crisis.

South Carolina acknowledges the problem and is working toward a better approach to domestic violence. It can’t come too soon.

The federal legislation should serve as a challenge to each state and community and to each of us. We need to not just comment on social media about the sadness of domestic violence but to take action. We need to empower the victims and get attorneys to commit to doing pro bono work to ensure that they receive justice and the services they need to get out of the situation, to recover and to never be a victim again.

Ms. Grant works for the Department of Social Services and is pursuing her master’s in social work; contact her at grantjes@usc.edu.

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