South Carolina once again has topped a list as first in the nation, but it’s nothing to be proud of. The state has been ranked as the No. 1 state when it comes to men killing women.
The ranking was based on 2011 crime data that showed 61 women in the state killed at the hands of men. That represents a rate of 2.54 per 100,000 of females murdered by males, more than double the national average.
Sadly this is no rare glitch in the statistical data. Rather, it almost seems to be ingrained in the state’s DNA.
This is the third year in the past 10 years that the Violence Policy Center has ranked South Carolina in the top spot. Last year and in 2006, South Carolina ranked second.
In many instances, the violence spills over, beyond the crimes against women. Several disputes ended in murder-suicides. In some cases children also were killed.
Each year another humbling ranking is announced, state leaders and organizations against domestic violence issue calls for action to reverse this horrible trend. Yet the problem remains distressingly intractable.
It is no surprise that guns are a factor. The Violence Policy Center’s report said guns were the most common weapon used to kill women.
A gun was used in about 51 percent of the 1,551 cases where the weapon could be confirmed. In South Carolina, 31 women were shot to death in 2011.
Federal law prohibits anyone convicted of domestic violence from owning or possessing a gun. But that law rarely keeps firearms out of the hands of violent men.
State Attorney General Alan Wilson has proposed raising the cap on the size of a bond magistrate judges can set for criminal domestic violence suspects, which seems reasonable. In South Carolina, the maximum bond for a first-time criminal domestic violence arrest is $5,000, which means a man arrested for beating his wife can get out of jail for $500 or less.
A higher bond might keep offenders locked up at least until the heat of anger has cooled somewhat.
In recent years, state lawmakers have stiffened penalties for repeat offenders and required special training for judges in the underlying causes of domestic violence. In 2006, the Legislature provided $2 million to fund additional prosecutors and establish centralized courts to handle domestic violence cases.
But these efforts apparently have not been sufficient to stem the problem. A much broader-based preventive approach – one that addresses the culture of domestic violence – may be required.
For many years, one approach has been to encourage and enable women to safely leave abusive relationships. While that can be beneficial, it fails to recognize the plight of many abused women who have no means of supporting themselves, have children to worry about or who simply don’t want to leave their partners for one reason or another.
Many advocates now are saying that the goal should be to put pressure on men to stop assaulting women. Rather than questioning why a woman stays in an abusive relationship, people should be asking why an offender is so violent and why he isn’t more severely punished for his actions.
That ultimately could help change the nature of the conversation and help place the responsibility for the crime where it belongs.
The state also must educate children about the danger of domestic violence and teach them about personal boundaries and non-violent conflict resolution. Sadly, children in families where domestic abuse occurs are more likely to be offenders or victims themselves, so those children should receive special attention.
Finally, perhaps we can learn from other states. They all, for a variety of reasons, are dealing with the problem more successfully than South Carolina.
Some changes might be simple and effective. But it appears the state also must contend with a tradition of violence against women that will be hard to alter.