Domestic violence remains a severe problem in South Carolina, but recent attempts to curb it are having the intended effect, according to a statewide committee chaired by 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone.
The S.C. Domestic Violence Advisory Committee, created when the General Assembly strengthened the state’s domestic violence laws in 2015, released its annual report Wednesday during a news conference at the State House in Columbia.
Among the major advances since 2015, Stone said, is putting the prosecution of third-degree domestic violence charges into the hands of professional prosecutors. The General Assembly increased funding for Solicitor’s Offices to assume this caseload, and the practice of police officers prosecuting these charges in municipal and magistrate courts has been almost completely eliminated statewide.
“We ask our police officers to protect us in our schools, in our homes, in our businesses. … We should not ask them to argue nuances of constitutional law in a courtroom,” Stone told the media Wednesday. “It’s now being prosecuted by lawyers and professional prosecutors throughout the state. So we have seen concrete improvements.”
The provision in the 2015 Domestic Violence Act that made these prosecutions possible was modeled after a pilot program Stone brought to the 14th Circuit years earlier. Stone also was a member of a 2015 Domestic Violence Task Force formed by then-Gov. Nikki Haley to raise awareness about domestic violence and suggest policies to curb it.
The S.C. Domestic Violence Advisory Committee report released Wednesday contained a progress report on the 50 recommendations made by the task force and noted other innovations statewide. That includes the 14th Circuit Victims Services Center, launched by the Solicitor’s Office in 2018, as well as its Special Victims Unit, formed in late 2017 to prosecute cases involving criminal sexual conduct, domestic violence, child abuse and other crimes against vulnerable populations.
The S.C. Domestic Violence Advisory Committee is a multidisciplinary group representing law enforcement, lawmakers, and both public and government social-service providers. Stone has been its chairman since the committee’s inception. It was empaneled to continue to seek ways to curb domestic violence in South Carolina, which has been a decades-long problem.
In fact, for as long as the Washington, D.C.-based Violence Policy Center has issued an annual report on the rate of women murdered by men, South Carolina has ranked among the 10 worst U.S. states. In 2015, the Palmetto State topped this ignominious list for the fourth time.
Since Haley’s Task Force and changes to the state domestic-violence laws, South Carolina’s ranking has improved to No. 6 in the most recent report by the Violence Policy Center. Stone’s committee also noted that South Carolina’s reported homicide rate of 1.88 per 100,000 females is down from 3.03 when the center issued its first report in 1998.
“We are sixth, not first, and that is movement in the right direction,” state Rep. Shannon Erickson said. The Beaufort Republican and member of the S.C. Domestic Violence Advisory Committee. “We have accomplished a lot, but we have more work to do.”
South Carolina’s domestic-violence homicide remains more than one-and-a-half times the national average.
The committee made three recommendations to further reduce violence against women:
- Expanding domestic violence prevention education in schools and communities;
- Expanding the definition of “household member” to better protect victims of dating violence. (State law now limits the definition of household member to a spouse, former spouse, couples who are cohabiting or who have a child in common);
- Conducting in-depth studies to better understand the dynamics of abusive situations and identify remedies that best reduce recidivism.
“We need to provide funding for extensive data gathering and analysis, and we would like to use the University of South Carolina’s Department of Criminology to do this,” Erickson said. “The best efforts of well-intentioned people have been thwarted by a lack of data.”