Is There a Domestic Violence Crisis in South Carolina?

Listening to some victim’s advocates and prosecutors, you would think there is a domestic violence crisis of epic proportions in South Carolina.

Men are beating, abusing, and killing women at record rates in the Palmetto State, and the only solution is to make arrests, get convictions, and punish the wife-beaters severely…

Wait, is that true?

Although domestic violence is a special social problem that needs to be addressed, is there really an epidemic of wife-beaters in SC? Are women the only victims of domestic violence, and are arrests and criminal convictions the solution to domestic violence?

What is the Purpose of Domestic Violence Laws in South Carolina?

Criminal penalties for domestic violence are a necessary part of any plan to reduce the rates of DV in SC – it may not be the most effective deterrent, but they serve their purpose.

Wait, what is their purpose?

For some, it is vengeance against men who would abuse women. It is punishment for men who commit the sin of striking a woman. It is also a way to free the women who are being held captive to their husband’s income and who are forced to live under the control of an abusive man.

Is that the reality of the lives of most people who get charged with domestic violence in SC?

I suspect the purpose of the domestic violence laws is, in part, to aid alleged victims of domestic abuse who are trapped in an abusive relationship or marriage, who do not have the means or emotional strength to leave, and who need help getting out of a bad situation. I also suspect that this was a more common situation in the 1950’s and earlier, when a typical household consisted of a bread-winner and a home-maker.

Those victims are out there, but, based on what I’ve seen, they are few and far between. SC’s domestic violence laws cast a wide net. Hopefully, it catches the worst cases of domestic abuse – the ever-increasing spiral of abuse that teaches children how to be abusers or victims and that may end in murder or other tragedies.

For the most part, however, it catches ordinary people having ordinary arguments or disagreements. It “catches” people who are looking for every advantage in a divorce proceeding or child custody action. It becomes a tool for angry, vindictive divorcees or couples who are splitting up to hurt one another.

It catches what would otherwise be “ordinary” but prosecutable cases of assault then steers the alleged victims away from their spouse and family with no-contact orders – increasing the stress that led to the difficulties in the first place and tearing families apart.

Are Domestic Violence Laws Aimed Solely at Men?

They are not worded to target only men, although, until recently, SC’s domestic violence laws specifically excluded gay couples from their protection.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “[m]ore than 37 percent of US women and almost 31 percent of US men experienced intimate partner contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking during their lifetime.”

That’s slightly more women than men who are abused by a partner – compare that to the number of men vs. women who are arrested, prosecuted, and convicted? I don’t have those statistics, but I can tell you that, in Charleston courtrooms, I see relatively few women being arrested or prosecuted for domestic violence…

That’s not completely the fault of law enforcement or prosecutors – for starters, I assume that fewer men report domestic violence than women. But, when it is reported, police are less likely to arrest a female or take a male victim seriously. Prosecutors are less likely to move forward in a case with a male victim. When they do, jurors are less likely to convict a female defendant with a male victim.

Should We Change SC’s Domestic Violence Laws?

I don’t think so – our laws and how they are enforced reflect our society’s thinking towards men and women. Women need to be protected – like it or not, that is how most people think and it’s not changing anytime soon.

Keep the laws as they are, but prosecute them evenly regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation. Acknowledge the truth about how the laws are applied and what their purpose is.

We cast a broad “domestic violence net,” not to punish most people who are arrested for DV, but to ensure that the minority who are true domestic violence victims get the help that they need…

I’m not saying that’s wrong – maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. I’m saying that, when Billy and Sally get drunk, have an argument, and start yelling at each other, and when the police show up and arrest Billy, let’s not label Billy for the rest of his life as a wife-beater…

Is Domestic Violence Increasing in South Carolina?

Since the passage of the Violence Against Women Act over 20 years ago (although violence against male partners is almost as prevalent as violence against female partners, note the title of the law), according to US government statistics, domestic violence cases have been reduced by over 70 percent…

Domestic violence is still a problem that needs to be addressed. Violence against women is a problem that needs to be addressed, regardless of whether violence against male partners is ignored. But, claims that there is an epidemic or crisis of domestic violence, relative to past crime rates, are just not true.

How Can We Prevent Domestic Violence?

I’ve looked at suggestions and programs from many different organizations and government agencies that have advice for what we can do to prevent domestic violence. With few exceptions, they aren’t listing increased criminal penalties as one of the preferred methods…

So, what can we do to prevent domestic violence?

The focus should be on prevention – although criminal penalties may be a deterrence, in most cases abuse happens when a person is intoxicated on alcohol or drugs, suffering an emotional disturbance, and they are not stopping to think about consequences.  We need criminal penalties, but they have a limited effect on prevention.

Government, Community, or Organizational Programs to Prevent Domestic Violence

The CDC offers a “technical package” that is intended to help communities, states, or municipalities develop programs to prevent domestic violence, and highlights six strategies:

  • Teach safe and healthy relationship skills;
  • Engage influential adults and peers;
  • Disrupt developmental pathways toward partner violence;
  • Create protective environments;
  • Strengthen economic supports for families; and
  • Support survivors to increase safety and lessen harms.

How Can Individuals Prevent Domestic Violence?

Break the Silence (BTSADV) has a list of 26 ways that individuals can get involved and help to prevent domestic violence in their communities, including:

  • Becoming a volunteer;
  • Donating;
  • Supporting DV legislation;
  • Talking to friends and family about DV facts and myths; and
  • Teaching your children about healthy relationships.

Criminal Domestic Violence Defense Lawyer in Charleston, SC

Charleston criminal defense attorney Grant B. Smaldone represents persons who are accused of domestic violence in South Carolina. If you or your family member have been arrested for domestic violence, call now at (843) 808-2100 or email with our contact form to talk with a domestic violence defense attorney today.