By Lindsey Hodges
“Just stop, Daddy!” The children’s voices were heard on a 911 emergency call from December 2016. They pleaded frantically with their father, Rep. Chris Corley, R-Aiken, as he threatened himself and his wife during a dispute. Corley, who later resigned his seat, was charged with first-degree criminal domestic violence and could face up tp 10 years in jail if convicted.
The Aiken representative put a public face on the sometimes hidden issue of domestic violence as did upstate Mayor John Kay Hansen of Ware Shoals, who also faces domestic violence charges after an incident in December 2016.
These cases with well-respected lawmakers and representatives show that although domestic violence may be waning across the nation, South Carolina still has high rates of violence.
In a report from the U.S. Department of Justice, updated in 2015, violence among intimate partners decreased 64 percent between 1993 and 2010.
South Carolina’s domestic violence fatality rate has gone down. In 2014, the rate of females murdered by males was 1.73 per 100,000 persons. The rate in 1994 was 3.03 per 100,000 persons. South Carolina also went from having the highest rate of females murdered by males in 2011 to having the fifth highest rate in 2014.
Even though domestic violence fatality rates have gone down, the number of domestic violence cases, fatal or not, that were reported to law enforcement in South Carolina has gone up, a domestic violence advocate said.
“Reporting of domestic violence has increased as much as 51 percent so that the actual rate of reports has become more of a public problem than a private issue,” Sara Barber, executive director of South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, said.
Even then, she says, cases go under reported by minority, immigrant and LGBT communities.
“Less education, more poverty and a deeply religious conservative culture are some of the things that all come together to create a sort of breeding ground for domestic violence,” Barber said.
“If we can start working with children - and I mean children as young as four or five - and you’re working with them in their schools, in their faith communities, in their boys and girls clubs, wherever they are, about what is a healthy relationship, what does it mean to engage in respectful behavior within a relationship … that gives us much more potential to create a society with more healthy behaviors,” Barber said.
Along with education, Barber believes that strengthening laws against domestic violence is important as well. In 2015, a bill was signed into South Carolina law that created four new tiers for domestic violence prosecutions based on the details of the crime. Each tier comes with varying prison sentences and fines. The first tier, domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature, requires a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
That bill also creates stricter gun laws for those that are convicted of domestic violence. The top tier offense would come with a lifetime ban on possession of firearms, with lessening restrictions with each tier.
According to SCCADVASA’s website, more than 60 percent of domestic violence fatalities were caused by guns. “When it comes to fatalities, states with stronger gun safety laws have lower levels of fatalities. You cannot divorce the access to firearms from domestic violence fatalities. That correlation is just so strong,” Barber said.
Another reason Barber believes that South Carolina has higher rates of domestic violence is that the state has such a strong religious presence.
Nancy Barton, executive director of Sistercare, an organization that provides services to domestic violence survivors, agrees that strong religious influences may affect families with domestic violence.
“There certainly are those sectors of people and pastors saying families need to stay together, that it’s the woman’s responsibility to keep it together, and using faith-based language that the Lord won’t give you more than you can withstand,” Barton said.
Efforts are being made to lessen the amount of domestic violence in the state. There are 22 member organizations in SCCADVASA that provide services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Those services include shelter, counselling, legal advocacy and medical advocacy. Barber says that more than 21,000 domestic violence services were provided last year.
Although domestic violence rates are high in South Carolina, Barton believes there is growing opposition to an acceptance of family violence.
“The culture has shifted and the thinking of people has shifted, so they’re more open to the idea that, regardless of marriage or children, no one should be physically or psychologically abused,” she said.