South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster offered some sensible advice last week: People need to protect their neighbors from domestic violence.
McMaster was speaking at a memorial for those who had died at the hands of abusers. He noted that domestic violence has been a secret crime for too long and that victims need to tell someone if they are being hurt.
"There are organizations, but there are also neighbors; there are friends. And all of us must be good neighbors and help our neighbors."
He's right, we all need to be attentive to the threat of domestic violence, which is far too prevalent in this state. Last year, 32 people died in South Carolina as a result of domestic violence -- 28 women and four men.
According to statistics from McMaster's office, nearly 36,000 people were victims of domestic violence in the state in 2005. More than 15,000 arrests were made.
In addition, the state ranked second in the nation in the rate at which men kill women, according to a 2006 survey by the Violence Policy Center. Although not all those deaths were caused by domestic violence, the overwhelming majority were.
South Carolina has ranked first in the nation in past years. But in 2003, the state's ranking dropped to sixth in the nation, giving advocates of efforts to reduce domestic violence hope that they were making headway.
Those efforts might have prevented recent numbers from being even worse. State lawmakers stiffened penalties for repeat offenders and required special training for judges in 2006. That year, McMaster successfully lobbied the General Assembly to provide $2 million to fund additional prosecutors and establish centralized courts to handle domestic violence cases.
York County established a special court in 2006 to try domestic violence cases. The court, which is held twice a month at the Moss Justice Center in York, is one of only a handful in the state. The court provides one more safe harbor where victims can take their complaints about domestic violence.
Unfortunately, as the figures show, these efforts are not enough. The state must take a broad-based preventive approach to this problem.
Studies indicate that children of abused mothers are more likely to become violent themselves, perpetuating the cycle of abuse. Early intervention might help break that cycle for some families.
Rehabilitation programs for first-time offenders also might help.
And, as McMaster noted, neighbors can help. If domestic violence can be brought into the light, we will have a better chance of stamping it out.
Everyone must join to root out domestic violence and help the thousands of victims.
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