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.Part two: Legislative inaction
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.
[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.Part three: Honor and rage
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.
South Carolina has been a patriarchal society from its very inception, and women have long been relegated to a secondary status.Part four: 'I just remember the fear'
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.
Many people don't realize that when a woman tries to leave, or press charges, she is in the most danger she will face.Part five: Cases fall apart, abusers go free
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."
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."Part six: No more missed opportunities
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.
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.Part seven: Enough is enough
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.
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.
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