We’re number 1!!
This is the glorious chant of Clemson football fans these days. They deserve it and all of us in the state ought to be proud of them.
Full Disclosure: In my family there are three Gamecocks; my wife, son and daughter are all proud alums. They bleed garnet – so I’m all too aware that not everyone in South Carolina is proud of Clemson. Fair enough.
Regrettably, football is not the only national ranking where we in South Carolina can claim to be number one. We’re number one in the country in criminal domestic violence (or CDV) i.e. men and women who live under the same roof and killing each other.
We moved up from number two last year. We’re making progress in the wrong direction.
According to S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, last year there were 29 women and 10 men killed by CDV. But deaths are only the tip of the iceberg. In 2013-14, more than 3,000 people requested emergency shelter and there were more than 20,000 emergency calls made to hotlines operated by the 13 domestic violence organizations in South Carolina.
Think about that for a minute – 20,000 emergency calls. That’s about the same size as the entire student body of Clemson.
And this is not something new to our state. According to this year’s report of the Violence Policy Center, this is the fourth time South Carolina has led the nation in this number one ranking and the 18th time in the report’s 18-year history that South Carolina has ranked in the top 10.
Commendably, Wilson has taken a leadership role on this issue. At a recent State House ceremony marking the 18th Annual Silent Witness event in remembrance of CDV victims, Wilson said, “Domestic violence victims are all around us, in our neighborhoods, our workplaces and our places of worship… Domestic violence affects all walks of life.”
So, what is being done to deal with this problem? The answer is “something, but not enough”.
First the “something”. The Attorney General’s office runs the STOP programs to try and tackle this difficult issue. According to Wilson’s website, the goals of the STOP program are twofold: one goal is to prosecute domestic violence and sexual assault cases. The other is to train law enforcement, judges, prosecutors, and victim advocates throughout the state about the causes, consequences and laws pertaining to domestic violence and sexual assault.
Also, employees of the STOP program regularly give speeches, trainings and seminars in the state to make people aware of the issue and encourage them to take action. And beyond this, there are also 13 domestic violence shelters and centers around the state that are working on the grass roots level to raise awareness and help the victims that made these 20,000 calls for help.
As bad as the current situation is, we have made progress, especially with the media’s attention to the issue. In August of last year, Charleston’s newspaper, The Post and Courier, did a remarkable five part series entitled ‘Till Death Do US Part’ on the issue. They were awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for the series – the highest award in all of journalism.
This public shaming by The Post and Courier led the state legislature to pass a “minimally adequate” bill to address the issue. We should give the legislature (some) credit in that the bill they passed had (some) good provisions. According to Wilson, the new law changes the current system where punishment is based on the number of offenses. The new law punishes abusers based on the severity of the attack, the number of prior offenses and other factors like whether the victim was strangled, is pregnant or children saw the abuse.
And, in a significant victory over the gun lobby, the bill imposed a lifetime gun ban for the worst abusers and has an automatic three to ten year ban in other cases.
Progress, but not enough.
At the end of the day, it’s really about us. As Wilson said, “While this problem won’t be overcome with legislation alone, South Carolina has taken its first giant in the long journey to changing the culture of violence.”
And it really is this culture of violence that is to blame….and we, all of us, make up this culture.
Football coaches talk about developing a “culture of winning”. It can be done – see Clemson above. But CDV is not about a game – it’s about life and death – at least for the 20,000 people who were abused and the 39 people who died.
We can all do better.
We can report any suspicion of violence, offer support to its victims, learn more about what each of us can do (see S.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse, www.sccadvasa.org) and most of all, encourage our politicians to do more – because they can.
So, all you Orange Tiger fans out there (and all you Gamecocks who hate them), enjoy the rest of the football season. But don’t forget that it’s not always good to be number one – when it comes to CDV, we can all do better.
Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and President of the SC New Democrats, an independent reform group started by former Gov. Richard Riley to support big change and real reform. firstname.lastname@example.org