S.C. Statehouse Report
Aug. 15, 2004
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/04.0815.violence.htm

It's time to do something about domestic violence
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

AUG. 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.


McLEMORE'S 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 cases.

  • 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 occurs.

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 and more.

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," McMaster said.

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 situations."

  • 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 homes … 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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