Doing More to Prevent Domestic Violence

– By Connie Stillinger –

On October 29, 2013 Bryan Sweatt entered the home of his former girlfriend in Greenwood county, S.C. and shot her, their infant child and three others to death before killing himself with the same handgun. Their murders brought the number of domestic violence deaths in South Carolina for this year to 69.

The Palmetto state ranks number one in the country for domestic violence deaths for the second consecutive year. This is according to the Violence Policy Center. South Carolina has ranked in the report’s top 10 every year for the last decade. The study uses the latest data available from the FBI for crimes involving one male killing one female. These victims are our neighbors, our children, our sisters, mothers friends and co-workers.

As a  state and here in our own community, we need to do more to bring domestic violence into the light. Separation violence is domestic violence when the abused tries to leave. Abusers use it as a threat every day. This incident, and 63 other deaths in SC this year are examples of separation violence.

The question is not, and never should be, “why didn’t the abused woman leave?” But what can we do to stop the killing.  South Carolina needs to change how we talk about domestic violence and put pressure on men to stop assaulting women. Rather than question why a woman stays in an abusive relationship, people should ask why an offender is so violent he kills another person and what can we do to make abusers accountable before their behavior leads to the death of another person.

Here are the questions we should be asking every time we hear about domestic violence:

  • Do I know my local domestic hotline number, and do I have it handy in case I see someone who needs it?
  • Have I placed domestic violence information in my gym, workplace, place of worship and doctor’s office?
  • Have I discussed relationship violence with my son so that he will never hit, slap, shove, rape or verbally abuse a partner?

Existing criminal domestic violence laws need to be enforced with maximum punishments given to offenders. And some laws need to be changed. According to  S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson the maximum bond for a first-time criminal domestic violence arrest is $5,000.  “That means a man arrested for beating his wife can get out of jail for $500 or less,” Wilson said. “If the Legislature would raise the cap on the maximum bond allowed, it would keep people in jail longer, giving them a “cooling-off period,” he added. The maximum sentence for a first time domestic violence offender in S.C. is only 30 days in the county jail.  This alone means that most offenders are back to abusing their spouse/significant other in less than one month. This law needs to be changed.

This report should be a call to action for the leadership of South Carolina and its citizens to recognize the seriousness of the problem and work together to find real solutions that improve the safety and lives of women in our state.

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