Aug. 15, 2004
It's time to
do something about domestic violence
SC Statehouse Report
15, 2004 - - Kathy Hicks was a good woman.
On Sundays in our church in Charleston, she always had a
smile. Whenever you talked with her, genuine warmth flowed.
You felt the power of her spirituality.
Last Sunday as members of St. Stephen's worshipped, no one
would ever have thought that she would be dead later that
night. But she did die - - yet another victim of criminal
domestic violence in South Carolina.
Too many women like Kathy are dying.
South Carolina leads the nation in women who die in domestic
violence incidents. It is, as State Attorney General Henry
McMaster says, the state's number one crime problem.
WORLD: Courtin' Kerry
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Just look at these mind-numbing statistics about this cyclical
terror that rips apart too many Palmetto State families:
- South Carolina ranks first in the nation in the number
of women killed by men - twice the national average. The
Palmetto State ranks third in the number of domestic violence
- Across the country, 6 million women are beaten annually
by husbands or boyfriends. Some 4,000 are killed.
- About every 15 seconds, another act of domestic violence
Prosecutors, victims' advocates and judges admit the problem
is complex and difficult to sort out because it often involves
feelings of love between men and women, family, other emotions
Victims tend to minimize signs they are in an abusive relationship
because they care for their partner and want to believe he
or she loves the other, says Elmire Raven, executive director
of My Sister's House in Charleston.
With domestic violence more prevalent in South Carolina than
other places, it's logical to ask what can be done.
McMaster says a pilot prosecution program in Orangeburg and
Kershaw counties seems to be working. In the program, volunteer
lawyers get training on how to prosecute domestic violence
cases and then serve as advocates for victims. So far, the
program has a 70 percent conviction rate.
While it's a solution after violence has occurred, McMaster
says it's an important step forward because it provides victims
with someone looking out for them in the magistrate courts
where charges usually are filed initially.
"The existence of the program has sent a message to
the would-be wife-beater that there are consequences to conduct,"
Other possibilities include:
- More training and coordination. A former magistrate
experienced in dealing with criminal domestic violence says
magistrates and police need more training to learn to deal
with the situations. Additionally, if counties had centralized
bond courts that met on specific days, prosecutions would
be more coordinated and allow victims' advocates and state
officials with resources to be available.
- Gun restrictions. This year, the S.C. House passed
a bill that would allow judges to have the discretion to
take away handguns from people charged with criminal domestic
violence. The bill didn't make it through the Senate. But
as one legislative leader says, taking away a gun from someone
who is impassioned might help. "If you were a drug
abuser and had drugs in the medicine cabinet, wouldn't it
make it easier to use them in a time of weakness?"
he asked. "It's the same with guns in domestic violence
- Tougher penalties. State lawmakers also might want
to consider giving local judges the ability to institute
tougher penalties for first-time offenders. Current law
carries a maximum misdemeanor offense of a 30-day jail term
and/or a $500 fine. What if lawmakers gave judges tools
to send someone to jail for a year and/or a $5,000 fine?
That might get an abuser's attention.
Domestic violence is senseless. It creates multiple levels
of harm - - to victims, children, families and society.
It's time for South Carolina's policymakers to stand up and
do something to end the cycle of terror that grips too many
so more good people like Kathy Hicks don't die.
Catherine Haynes Hicks (1965 - 2004), May you rest in peace.
8/15: Courtin' Kerry
This week's cartoon by our Bill McLemore:
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