tradition, pride, religion, and patriarchy: a dangerous mix for women
April 21, 2015 9:05 AM   Subscribe

Located in the heart of the Bible Belt, South Carolina is a deeply conservative state where men have ruled for centuries. The state elected its first female governor four years ago, but men continue to dominate elected offices, judicial appointments and other seats of government and corporate power. In many respects, the state's power structure is a fraternity reluctant to challenge the belief that a man's home is his castle and what goes on there, stays there.
The 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service has been awarded to Charleston, South Carolina's Post and Courier newspaper for their seven-part special investigation on domestic violence and femicide in a state that consistently places in the top ten nationally in the rate of women killled by men: Till Death Do Us Part.

Part one: Till death do us part [warning: auto-playing video]
South Carolina is hardly alone in dealing with domestic violence. Nationwide, an average of three women [PDF] are killed by a current or former lover every day. Other states are moving forward with reform measures, but South Carolina has largely remained idle while its domestic murder rate consistently ranks among the nation's worst.

Though state officials have long lamented the high death toll for women, lawmakers have put little money into prevention programs and have resisted efforts to toughen penalties for abusers. This past year alone, a dozen measures to combat domestic violence died in the Legislature.

[...]

All 46 counties have at least one animal shelter to care for stray dogs and cats, but the state has only 18 domestic violence shelters to help women trying to escape abuse in the home.
Part two: Legislative inaction
[South Carolina State House Minority Leader Rep. J. Todd] Rutherford blames victim advocates for poisoning the well. He said all they do is push for laws that make it harder for the accused to get out of jail on bond and easier to increase their time behind bars once convicted of abuse.

He said such laws fail to take into account that many cases involve families that might be preserved if the abusers were given more options to avoid higher bonds, stiffer fines and convictions.

The current maximum 30-day jail sentence for first-offense criminal domestic violence might not seem like much to some, Rutherford said, but it's a long time for most people to be locked up. If jailed, the man could lose his family, his job, his benefits and his house, he said.
Part three: Honor and rage
South Carolina has been a patriarchal society from its very inception, and women have long been relegated to a secondary status.

They lacked the right to serve on juries [PDF] here until 1967, and the Palmetto State didn't formally ratify the 19th Amendment [PDF] giving women the right to vote until two years later. Women couldn't file for divorce in South Carolina until 1949. Marital rape wasn't criminalized until 1991.
Part four: 'I just remember the fear'
Many people don't realize that when a woman tries to leave, or press charges, she is in the most danger she will face.

For 25 years, Elmire Raven, a domestic violence survivor herself, has led the charge at Charleston's shelter for abused women, My Sister's House.

The shelter includes this warning on its website: "The most dangerous time for a victim is when leaving the relationship. Fifty percent of injuries and 75 percent of domestic homicides occur after the relationship ends."
Part five: Cases fall apart, abusers go free
S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson pushes prosecutors to move forward with domestic abuse cases even when victims feel too embarrassed or afraid to cooperate. He tells victims: "This is not your cross to bear. This is my burden. ... He has committed a crime against the state."

Still, it's an uphill climb.

A "victim-less" prosecution can succeed if an officer witnesses the assault or can find fingerprints, a recording or some other evidence to tie the abuser to the crime. But domestic violence generally takes place within the home and out of sight, with no witnesses but the abuser and his victim. To make a case stick, it usually comes down to the woman testifying against her man.
Part six: No more missed opportunities
In the past, [Spartanburg Police Capt. Regina Nowak] said, officers often left the scene of domestic calls frustrated because the couple refused to cooperate when they arrived, or the woman was too afraid to press charges. With the assessment, she said, the officers can question the victim more effectively and help her see the danger she is in.

If the victim answers "yes" to any one of three critical questions, Nowak said, the officer immediately calls a 24-hour phone line staffed by a trained "lethality screener" who attempts to intervene to help the woman get to a shelter.

With this, Nowak said, officers get a chance to do something constructive, and the victim gets help.
Part seven: Enough is enough
Domestic violence is an ingrained, complicated and generational problem in the Palmetto State. But that doesn't mean it cannot be solved.

To produce this series, The Post and Courier reviewed dozens of reports and studies, examined efforts underway in other states and interviewed more than 100 police officers, lawyers, judges, victims, counselors, victim advocates, politicians, clergy and more. This endeavor produced a number of concrete proposals aimed at curbing the bloodshed.

Some proposed fixes would cost money, but most could be accomplished with existing resources and some revisions to the state's laws. What is really needed is leadership from top elected officials, commitment from each of the state's counties and the participation of an engaged public.
///

If you or someone you know is at risk of experiencing domestic violence, please call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE or 1-800-787-3224 [TTY], visit thehotline.org, and look for shelters nearby at DomesticShelters.org.

For 24/7 access to confidential, personalized referrals to a variety of community resources -- crisis housing, emergency care, and beyond -- call 2-1-1 toll-free or visit 211.org.
posted by divined by radio (26 comments total) 80 users marked this as a favorite
 
The terrifying thing about this is that no law or policy against domestic violence can truly be effective as long as the society itself is patriarchal. You can have arbitrarily large sentences against domestic violence and none of that will matter if police refuse to investigate because its "just a misunderstanding" or "a family matter", if prosecutors refuse to prosecute because "it's her word against his" and women refuse to press charges because doing so would potentially cut themselves off from every means of financial and social support that they have.

South Carolina and the United States need a social revolution, a fundamental re-orientation of power dynamics and social relations in society. Anything else is just a band-aid on an artery wound.
posted by Avenger at 9:20 AM on April 21, 2015 [20 favorites]


no law or policy against domestic violence can truly be effective as long as the society itself is patriarchal

It would be nice to test that theory out down here in SC by trying on some stricter laws. Restricting abusers from owning and acquiring guns, for instance, would be a great start. Instead, what do we get? “There’s a segment of our population that wants to take our gun rights,” said Bright, who raffled off an AR-15 rifle this year as part of a bid for U.S. Senate.

To be able to say something like that, to be able to spout an NRA talking point, and not recognize that your statement has a body count, is so ugly. It's ugly enough that I wish it weren't somewhat deep into part two of the article. You just want to strip that paragraph out and run it around to all the pro-gun people you know: See what you're encouraging?

I'm having to read this piece pretty slowly, with frequent breaks for rage and sickness. I hope to god there's a little bit of optimism at the end, because jesus christ, the first two sections are bleak.
posted by mittens at 9:46 AM on April 21, 2015 [9 favorites]


Social revolutions don't happen overnight (or when they do, lots of people tend to die) but there are lots we can do with just "band-aids" to help a lot of women. This series is obviously an attempt to shame the SC government into doing more. More shelters, more resources, more enforcement. Probably it won't work outright, but it might also serve to raise consciousness among readers (men and women) to keep pressing for change. People doing bad things (or failing to do their jobs) hide their crimes for a reason. Sunshine is one weapon to use against them.

You have to keep the pressure on and not let up to make the change happen.

Thanks for the post, divined by radio.
posted by emjaybee at 9:48 AM on April 21, 2015 [8 favorites]


Isn't SC a big tourism state? How about whoever does these things organize a tourism boycott? Let the resort towns sit empty until the women are safe.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:54 AM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Republican Sen. Tom Corbin thinks that domestic violence legislation has focused on the wrong things. It needs to focus on what causes violence. “There needs to be a lot more love for Jesus in the world, and I think that would curb a lot of violence.”
I'm speechless.
posted by Medieval Maven at 10:34 AM on April 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


If they figure it out, can they transfer the knowledge to India? not hamburger
posted by infini at 10:35 AM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


As a result of this story, there has been work towards improving the laws. However, as always there have been problems. The current situation is summarized in this Post-Courier article.
posted by Hactar at 10:35 AM on April 21, 2015


Your home should necer be your prison, concentration camp, torture chamber, or abattoir. I know governments itch to send troops somewhere, perhaps Main Street, South Carolina should be on top of the list. If you treat women this badly, you are not a civilized society. Period.

You have all these companies and celebrities pretending they are one with the feminist movement these days; so what are they doing to combat this state-sanctioned misogyny?

This is a war against women, plain and simple. It disgusts me on every level and this cannot be shrugged off. Thank you for this post.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 10:59 AM on April 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I remember when this piece was published and thought it was very strong. I was pleased that it was recognized with the Pulitzer. Maybe more people will read it and things will actually change.
posted by kat518 at 11:02 AM on April 21, 2015


I love that we have the danger assessment - I've heard reports from police that it's often turned a woman from defending her abuser to deciding to leave with police protection. I hate that we need the danger assessment; people should be able to have an assumption of safety and love in their primary relationships.
posted by Deoridhe at 11:25 AM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Something that always blows my mind a little is the fact that femicide and male-on-female DV aren't classed as hate crimes. Is it because women make up half the population? Because we are so often intimately acquainted with our abusers, stalkers, and killers? Or because our lives are so widely considered less than worthless from the start?

I look at explicitly gendered massacres like Isla Vista, West Nickel Mines, and École Polytechnique -- to say nothing of the innumerable victims of domestic violence or the untold thousands of women who have gone euphemistically "missing" across the world -- and it really makes me wonder why on earth the prospect has yet to be widely discussed. I found this perspective compelling; it's excerpted from Hate and Bias Crime: A Reader by Dr. Barbara Perry:
Another reason for not seeing women as fitting a hate crimes model is the acceptance of liberal rather than radical feminist perspective to explain violence against women. Largely due to the work of liberal feminists, violence against women has received increased attention, funding, and legal reform. However, the liberal feminist perspective focuses on gaining equality with men in the public sphere, often without explicating the root causes of the inequalities. However, a radical feminist perspective acknowledges the existence of a patriarchy in which violence is used as a tool of male oppression[...]

The radical feminist perspective is not widely accepted by policy makers and hate crime actors, leading to the conceptualization of violence against women as personal and individual, not political. A radical feminist perspective more firmly situates the category of gender within the hate crime paradigm, whereas a liberal feminist perspective primarily seeks legal safeguards without addressing the underlying causes or motivations of violence against women.
The author does immediately go on to explicate the myriad arguments against labeling this kind of violence as a hate crime, but to my mind, the above is quite the indictment. Perhaps more damning, though, is our society's ongoing acceptance of the cultural and historical silencing of victims of domestic abuse under the guise of 'going along to get along.' From part three:
"The culture does not see domestic violence as a public health issue, which is what it really is," says Mindi Spencer, an assistant professor of Southern Studies and Public Health at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.

Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, who oversees prosecutions in Charleston and Berkeley counties, agrees: "Even if we had unlimited shelters all over the place, I think culturally we don't offer that support to victims. Nobody wants to hear about it."
posted by divined by radio at 11:59 AM on April 21, 2015 [26 favorites]


Something that always blows my mind a little is the fact that femicide and male-on-female DV aren't classed as hate crimes.

Would male-on-male DV be a hate crime? Androcide? I imagine your SO isn't someone you target for violence because of what they are but because they are your SO and you're pissed off at them for some reason. I think it would be difficult to prove that you backhanding your wife because she burned the roast fits the legal definition of hate crime. Then again IANAL.
posted by MikeMc at 12:26 PM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


From Part Two:

By the time the legislative session ended in June, all but one of the domestic violence bills had died in committee.

The lone exception: a measure approved by the Legislature in early June and signed into law by Gov. Nikki Haley. It provides for court-ordered protection for the pets of the victims of domestic violence.


Priorities.
posted by delfin at 12:31 PM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


What if the vast majority of your criminal record was made up of violence against women? What if you were a serial killer who targeted only women? Or a rapist who targeted only women (after all, men can attack men as well)? What if you were someone who stalked and threatened women while explicitly saying (ala MRA types) that women were inferior, that they deserved rape, that they should be punished for existing?

And if you are feeling real resistance to this idea, why? I mean, if it was racial, it would be a hate crime. If it was about orientation, same. So why is targeting a specific gender for violence, strictly because of their gender, not a hate crime?

I think the reason a lot of people shrink away from this is a horrible one: because this type of violence is so common that we'd have to lock up so many men. And we (including women) don't want to see our society as being that sick.
posted by emjaybee at 1:27 PM on April 21, 2015 [30 favorites]


By the time the legislative session ended in June, all but one of the domestic violence bills had died in committee.

The lone exception: a measure approved by the Legislature in early June and signed into law by Gov. Nikki Haley. It provides for court-ordered protection for the pets of the victims of domestic violence.


...oh my god.
posted by clockzero at 2:23 PM on April 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


I know governments itch to send troops somewhere, perhaps Main Street, South Carolina should be on top of the list.

I wouldn't be that quick to put those feet on the ground. DV within military families is rampant. (It may actually be worse than SC.)

Anyway. I read things like this and I am just just filled with hopelessness and shocked all over again that I live in a world that values me not at all.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:40 PM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Republican Sen. Tom Corbin thinks that domestic violence legislation has focused on the wrong things. It needs to focus on what causes violence. “There needs to be a lot more love for Jesus in the world, and I think that would curb a lot of violence.”

Actually, I think the "love for Jesus" is one of the things that helps DV perpetuate. Christianity favors forgiveness. I can't tell you how much I was told by my abuser's family - who are extremely religious - that I just had to forgive him for what he had done. Over and over. Every time there was a violent episode, it was on me to forgive him. As long as he was repentant, and as long as he was "trying" not to be abusive, it was on me to forgive. I mean, Jesus forgave him. God forgave him. Why couldn't I? I was so small and petty for not being able to forgive and forget.

Christianity lets you say "I'm so sorry, I repent," and then Christ soaks up your sins. In my experience, that means that people just keep on sinning and asking for forgiveness.

Great set of articles; very well-written and so, so horrific and horrible to read. Necessary, though. Thanks so much for posting this.
posted by sockermom at 2:48 PM on April 21, 2015 [22 favorites]


I think it would be difficult to prove that you backhanding your wife because she burned the roast fits the legal definition of hate crime.

But are "the legal definition of hate crime" and "hate crime" synonymous? Or, by invoking "the legal definition," has the question been left firmly to the liberal camp that divined by radio's comment describes? Would it be useful to question the implications of that view, with its insistence on a certain provable intent? Isn't that pretty much exactly what's being described in that division between a liberal and a radical feminist view of domestic murder, the individual versus the political/cultural?

I mean, the common definition of a hate crime relies so much on individual motive, it washes out every other aspect. It sets up the defendant as that perfect Enlightenment figure, the self-willed man aware of his motives and carrying them out. (And that insistence on the self-willed bleeds over into the view of the victim, too. You read through the articles and marvel at the number of people who see the woman as culpable in her own murder because she didn't react correctly.) So the abuser-turned-murderer couldn't possibly be committing a hate crime, because that wasn't his intent.

Wouldn't it make sense to look at behavioral patterns, performances of a certain type of gender relation, and see if there are commonalities between this abuse and established types of hate crime? Because it's clear that the abuse and murder on this scale are only possible if you take gender identity into account, in the same way that lynching only makes sense looking at racial identity. Compare them to a mugging, where all that matters is someone is holding a knife, a gun, or has a way of making a physical threat. The perpetrator and victim don't matter; the power relationship is all in the taking-by-force. But the lynching never happens without defining the victim as the (weaker, worse) other.

And we can't get too wrapped up in a shallow definition of "hate," either. Think of the lynchings that became a form of entertainment, a family affair you could bring the kids to. That's not "hate" in an individualistic sense; that's a culture expressing the worthlessness of a victim. Which seems like another way of describing what is going on in these awful, tragic stories: A woman has been branded as worthless, an idea that has to come from somewhere, an idea that is transmitted from the culture. Repeated in the churches, in the laws, in the conversations, in what is allowed, in what isn't punished, an idea that only works if it is repeated and reinforced culturally.
posted by mittens at 3:02 PM on April 21, 2015 [13 favorites]


But are "the legal definition of hate crime" and "hate crime" synonymous? Or, by invoking "the legal definition," has the question been left firmly to the liberal camp that divined by radio's comment describes?

I would say yes and yes. What does, or does not, constitute a crime is decided by the legislature therefore as a practical matter the legal definition is the only definition that counts. The concept of a hate crime is a legal construct, to change the definition you need to change the law.
posted by MikeMc at 3:44 PM on April 21, 2015


Most hate crime definitions don't actually have a thing to do with motive - they have to do with how you did the crime and whether you did it in a way that amounts to terrorism because it inspires fear in the community or a segment of the community. If I beat up a black guy and am yelling "That's what you get for being a black guy", it makes all the black guys in my community scared to go out, and that's why we want to sanction it more harshly. Beating up one's partner doesn't inspire fear or terror in the community at large.

I agree that there are some deeper issues here and a hate for women is tangled up in this to a large extent but I understand why it doesn't fall under the statutes.
posted by ftm at 5:46 PM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wow. No words for this. Thank you for posting it, divined by radio.

I did want to point out one thing from the article - that domestic violence, as complicated a problem as it is - is highly preventable. Parts six and seven of the article lay out the different courses of action that can be taken and the much higher rates of successes seen in areas that use them:

In Maryland and several Massachusetts communities, police, prosecutors, domestic advocates and probation officers work in teams to identify high-risk domestic violence cases, share information and rapidly connect abused women with services to help them escape harm.

The teams employ numerous techniques to calm the situation and alter the dynamics at play, including placing the abuser under surveillance, removing guns from his home and getting him counseling...

...As counselors and authorities sorted through the events that led to her death, they came up with a strategy aimed at shifting the onus for protection away from victims. Instead, offenders are held more accountable for their behavior. The strategy includes using GPS technology to track the offender’s movements, making sure he doesn’t go near the victim. It also includes “preventative detention” to hold high-risk offenders without bail until trial.

This creates a cooling-off period in which a victim can get help without being in imminent danger. And she can do so without having to uproot her life and seek sanctuary in a shelter, said Kelly Dunne, operations chief for the Geiger Center.

“Going to a shelter literally means ripping them from their jobs, forcing them to pull their kids out of school and going to a community they may never have been to — and they have to do this sight unseen,” Dunne said. “It always seems so unfair what we are asking these women to do. They were the victims of a crime, yet they are the ones whose lives have to be completely disrupted.”


There are solutions. From part seven:

Some proposed fixes would cost money, but most could be accomplished with existing resources and some revisions to the state’s laws. What is really needed is leadership from top elected officials, commitment from each of the state’s counties and the participation of an engaged public.

People like Senator Tom Corbin are a big part of the fucking problem and should be profoundly fucking ashamed of themselves. Love Jesus, my ass.
posted by triggerfinger at 6:14 PM on April 21, 2015 [13 favorites]


I say a huge factor of DV is the mindset that women are property.
posted by brujita at 7:22 PM on April 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Beating up one's partner doesn't inspire fear or terror in the community at large.

Bullshit. It inspires terror in women at large - women who have to wonder if this red flag means they're an abuser, if the man they're on a date with is going to kill you. It inspires terror in the woman next door who wonders if intervening, even to be friends, will get her killed. It inspires terror in the children watching, that they then act out on their friends. It inspires terror in the family that echoes on out. It inspires terror in the service providers who wonder exactly when they're gonna get a death notice, when the kids are gonna grow up and enter the system. It inspires terror in onlookers. It inspires a culture of fear because I fucking know that if my partner hit me the first damn things out of everyone's mouths would be some variant on 'but he's such a nice guy'.

It inspires a culture of terror that demands obedience and fear from women to reinforce a hierarchy.
posted by geek anachronism at 7:39 PM on April 21, 2015 [25 favorites]


no law or policy against domestic violence can truly be effective as long as the society itself is patriarchal

I agree, though good laws are clearly better than bad laws, even when embedded in a sick system.

On a slightly more hopeful note, just this week I witnessed a man be publicly and completely ostracized by his former friends and colleagues when they learned he had beaten his partner. These were all politically conservative men who are an awfully long way from feminist, and yet their revulsion was palpable. Not that many years ago I would have expected that episode to be swept under the rug, and instead it looks like he has permanently lost his social and economic connections (and may be facing criminal sanctions, too, but that process takes longer), which in a rural area is a big deal.

At least in this part of the country I think attitudes are changing, though by no means universally.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:49 PM on April 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


Beating up one's partner doesn't inspire fear or terror in the community at large.

That's only true if you don't consider women part of the community at large.

Women are terrorized both by domestic violence, and by being told it's our fault and we should have stopped men from abusing us. The trend of blaming women for men's behavior begins in childhood and adolescence, and it's so woven into the presumed characteristics of girls and boys, men and women that I literally don't know what a society would look like where women were considered to have an equal right to public life.

I've never been in an abusive relationship, but I was raped by someone I loved, and I and others blamed me for it for years. My relationships with men have been materially affected, not only by my experience but by my belief - based on how people react to women who have been raped or abused - that the onus is on me to prevent other people from raping and abusing me.

Before I went off to college, my mom instructed me on how to guard my drink so that I couldn't be drugged, using the example of her guarding her drink from my father when she first met him at a frat party. I'm only now beginning to realize how profoundly my life has been shaped by ever-present, unending fear of being a victim of men.

This isn't universal for all women, but based on conversations I've had with other women, it isn't exactly rare.
posted by Deoridhe at 11:54 PM on April 21, 2015 [13 favorites]


It does no good to get out if violent men continue to get visitation and even custody of children. Many women stay because at weekly intervals the child or children will be with her and very possibly their abuser.
In many states, the woman's lawyer will tell her not to mention abuse of herself or the children.
Judges are actually TRAINED to disbelieve women.
Further, this will shock many of you, guess which professions have the highest numbers of domestic violence perpetrators...
No bad as the military might be, the worst are

Law enforcement
Legal profession
Medical profession

Who are you turning to in your hour of need when you leave?

Oh by the way, in those religious groups with married clergy, things aren't wonderful either. Plenty of skeletons in those closets.

In my day, you could solve the visitation problem by letting the guy rack up lots and lots of child support debt and disappearing.

That worked for me. In this wired age that doesn't work.

Frankly until the US cleans it's own house on matters of how women and children are treated in 'Family Court' ( and foster care) the US can't talk about other places, or how 'free' women are.
Abused women and children are hung out to twist in the wind. No one gives them justice or retribution and frankly the system isn't just broken in South Carolina.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 12:26 AM on April 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


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