Well … we’re number one again!  But before you get too happy, let me remind you … this is South Carolina. And being #1 when it comes to women who are killed by the men in their lives is nothing to celebrate, especially when women in our “great” state are more than twice as likely to be murdered here as a result of domestic violence than in any other state in the nation.

Why is that?

For starters … although some of us are forced to say, “It’s a great day in South Carolina,” nothing could be further from the truth. Too many of our women and children live in the “state” of Fear, while the rest of us comfortably reside in the “state” of denial. Until we begin to acknowledge the real “state” of our state, more women will die.

According to the Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C., this isn’t the first time South Carolina has held the #1 spot and sadly, we’ve consistently ranked in the top 10 for many years. Guess that’s where we’ll stay until we decide to “move.”

The impact of violence against women on children is equally disturbing. Half of the men who assault their wives also physically abuse their children. Studies show that children who witness or experience violence at home may have long-term physical, emotional, and social problems. Consequently, they’re also more likely to become victims or perpetrators themselves, even while dating as teens.

Just after graduating law school, I worked at the S.C. Attorney General’s Office to launch the first statewide Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Program, when South Carolina was #1 in the nation. Domestic violence was then viewed by many as a “private family matter,” so we were determined to “break the cycle” by identifying and implementing strategies that worked in other states with similar demographics.

Our collaborative efforts allowed us to transfer the burden of prosecution from the victim to the state, strengthen DV laws, set up DV Courts and train law enforcement, prosecutors, judges and victim advocates on how to appropriately handle DV cases.
But laws and policies are sometimes easier to change than mindsets and attitudes.  So here we are for the third time, back in the #1 spot.

In Richland County alone, at least 1,964 domestic assaults occurred from January 1, 2012 through October 9, 2013 and at least 421 of those assaults happened in Northeast Richland County.

At least five women in Richland County have already died this year and while the statistics are staggering, so too are the shattered lives of those we’re losing and those we’ve lost … like my cousin, who was gunned down last month at her Northeast Columbia home by her ex-fiance.

On average, three women are murdered every day in this country by a boyfriend, husband or ex-husband.  And for every victim of domestic violence who is killed, it’s estimated that nine more – including children, coworkers, neighbors, and police officers, are killed or injured while being in the midst of or trying to stop these violent acts.

Originally drafted in 1994 by Sen. Joe Biden and others, VAWA has been a catalyst for change in the lives of battered women.  And today, Vice President Biden’s unwavering commitment to end violence against women includes grant funding that continues to invest millions of federal dollars in support of innovative programs aimed at predicting potentially lethal behavior, stopping the violence before it escalates and saving lives. This year, Congress reauthorized VAWA, to include protections for Native Americans and “intimate partners.”

According to the S.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (SCCADVASA):

  • Sixty-one females were murdered by males in South Carolina…more than twice the national average·
  • Four of these victims were 18 years of age or younger; and the average homicide victim was 38 years old
  • 22 were black; 39 were white
  • At least 33 of these women were murdered by their husbands, common-law-husbands, ex-husbands, boyfriends or ex-boyfriends
  • Of the women who were murdered, 52% were killed with guns

But why should you care?  You probably don’t have children, parents, siblings, relatives, friends or coworkers.  Perhaps you’re too educated, too professional, too smart or just too busy to be concerned about “those” people, who obviously choose to stay in abusive relationships. That could never be you or someone you love, right?

If that’s your auto-response, you definitely reside in “denial.” And folks who live there love it because they’re able to getaway to neighboring states, like “oblivion” and “comfort” when things get a little rough. After all, ”It’s a great day…” in those “states” everyday, full of “smiling faces and beautiful places.”

But for those who live in “fear” or the next “state” over … in South Carolina, real women of every age, race, religion, culture, sexual orientation, educational and socio-economic level … are dying.

How many more women have to die in this state before we’re willing to move from “denial” to “action?”

One? Two? Ten? Twenty?  What’s the magic number?

If you’re willing to consider moving to a different “state,” please join us for the first of a series of town hall meetings to discuss the impact of domestic violence on our communities:

Who:          Richland County Residents

What:        Town Hall Meeting on Domestic Violence

When:        Monday, October 28, 2013
                   6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Where:     Ridge View High School Auditorium

Let’s make South Carolina a safer, stronger state…together.

mia mcleod

Mia McLeod represents Richland County in the South Carolina House of Representatives.