South Carolina is rated No. 2 in the nation in the number of women killed by men, according to the S.C. Commission on Prosecution Coordination.

The state also has the sixth highest violent crime rate in the country.

S.C. Department of Social Services records show that in the federal fiscal year 2012-2013, state shelter programs for victims of domestic violence provided support and services to 20,264 individual adults and children, answered 19,866 hotline calls, and provided community education and training to 46,510 adults and children.

S.3, the Domestic Violence Bill – a state law signed by Gov. Nikki Haley on June 4 – should make dramatic changes in those statistics.

To state prosecutors like Solicitor Duffie Stone of the Fourteenth Circuit Solicitor’s Office, those stats aren’t just numbers. “We understand the severity of domestic violence. This is something we see on a regular basis and we don’t need statistics to tell us there’s a problem,” Stone said.

“From my standpoint, just dealing with a large number of murder cases brings home just how serious this is,” he said. Stone oversees the prosecution in the 14th Circuit, which includes Beaufort, Jasper, Colleton, Hampton and Allendale counties.

It is the only five-county circuit within the state and covers 3,200 square miles.

In 2011, the governor appointed Stone to serve on the South Carolina Commission on Prosecution Coordination, which is responsible for coordinating all activities involving prosecution of criminal cases in the state.

In 2014, Stone also was appointed to the state task force on domestic violence.

“The key parts to this bill are the enhancements in regard to repeated conduct, escalating conduct and learned behavior,” said Stone. “The most severe penalty is now doubled and the least severe penalty is tripled.”

Penalties for the most severe crimes were increased from 10 years to 20 years. Penalties for the lower offenses increased from 30 days to 90 days.

“If you go about changing the culture and you want to make it clear that you take domestic violence seriously, I think the least offense having a substantial penalty is important,” Stone said.

Theresa Lacey, community educator for Citizens Opposed to Domestic Abuse (CODA) in Beaufort County, said things are better defined with the new law.

“The implementation of the three separate degrees of domestic violence is going to allow prosecutors to try cases in a more consistent and deliberate manner,” Lacey said.

Each domestic violence case now starts in General Sessions court.

“We felt that even the lowest level of domestic violence offenders should sit in the same courtroom as armed robbers, rapists and murders,” Stone said.

The penalties now take into account the harm done to the victim – if it was a moderate injury or serious injury, if the victim is choked, if the victim is pregnant and if a weapon was used.

The statute has four levels of penalty: 90 days for third degree offenses; three years for misdemeanors; and two felony counts: a 10-year sentence and a 20-year sentence for a conviction of domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature.

The CODA shelter can and usually does house up to 24 women and children. If there is no room and a victim needs shelter, Lacey said there is always a place for those seeking help, both men and women.

“We don’t leave victims to manage on their own. We help them in any way we can,” Lacey said, “and the services are available on an outreach basis or in a shelter. It’s a common misconception that if you’re not in a shelter, you’re not going to get services, and that is absolutely not true.”

Domestic violence comprises 10 to 20 percent of the 14th Circuit Court’s caseload, Stone said, with almost 700 cases at the lowest level of domestic violence.

“Every year we will bring in 5,000 cases total and Beaufort County makes up about half of that, with about the same percentage being domestic violence,” he added.

Stone noted that the passage of the law was due to combined efforts from the state legislature. “Rep. Shannon Erickson deserves a great deal of credit for this new law,” he said. “She chaired the special domestic violence committee and has worked tirelessly with her colleagues in the House and the Senate to draft and pass this legislation.

“This new bill covers everything you could possibly imagine: definitions, penalties, procedures,” Stone said. “It is a comprehensive restructuring of the domestic violence statute.”

Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.

NEED HELP NOW?

CODA

(Citizens Opposed to Domestic Abuse)

CODA provides professional supportive services to victims of intimate partner abuse and their children in Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties in South Carolina. Committed to the belief that safety from violence and freedom from fear are universal rights, CODA conducts community education programs to confront the societal norms that condone abusive behavior.

www.codalowcountry.org

24-hour hotline – 843-770-1070

Toll free – 800-868-2632

Business – 843-770-1074

Fax – 843-770-1084

Languages spoken: English, Spanish, French, Russian,

*Collect calls accepted

Services include:

  • Emergency services, shelter
  • Legal and financial assistance services
  • Counseling services
  • Housing services
  • Support services
  • Children’s services
  • Community educational services
  • Wheelchair accessible

Hope Haven of the Lowcountry

www.hopehavenlc.org

Hope Haven of the Lowcountry is a nationally accredited not-for-profit Children’s Advocacy and Rape Crisis Center serving Beaufort County. Hope Haven provides a number of services to victims of rape or sexual abuse, including:

  • 24-hour hotline – 800-637-7273
  • Forensic medical evaluations performed by pediatric nurse practitioners
  • Child forensic interviews
  • Evidence-based mental health treatment
  • Crisis counseling and family support
  • Survivor support groups
  • Victim rights education

CAPA

Child Abuse Prevention Association

www.capabeaufort.org

The Child Abuse Prevention Association (CAPA) exists to break the destructive cycle of child abuse and neglect by equipping parents, children and their caregivers with necessary skills, knowledge and values. All children deserve to be loved, nurtured and kept safe from intentional and unintentional harm.

Phone: 843-524-4350

Fax: 843-525-0070

kids@capabeaufort.org

Services:

Open Arms Children’s Home

Domestic abuse prevention program

Parenting classes

Savannah Area Family Emergency Shelter

www.safeshelter.org

The mission of SAFE Shelter Center for Domestic Violence Services is to prevent domestic violence, protect victims and promote change in lives, families and our community. Serving the Coastal Empire and Lowcountry of South Carolina.

24-hour hotline – 912-629-8888

Business – 912-629-0026

Fax – 912-629-0028

Languages spoken – English, Spanish

*Collect calls accepted