Dear South Carolina, It Doesn’t Take a Ring to be a Victim of Abuse

January 26, 2012  |  

South Carolina has one the highest rates of domestic violence. In fact, it’s ranked seventh in the nation in terms of the number of women killed by men. More than 36,000 victims around the state report a domestic violence incident to law enforcement agencies annually, and last year more than 40 domestic violence victims were killed.

What gives? Perhaps the fact that 60 percent of relationship violence victims are not protected by domestic violence laws because they aren’t married or don’t live with their abusive partner. South Carolina is 1 of 8 states that only lets married or live-in couples seek orders of protection. On Wednesday, a house subcommittee heard testimony on legislation calling for an expansion of domestic violence laws in the state that would include dating couples so as to allow these victims to seek orders of protection from family court and judges to order abusive partners to attend a batterer treatment program, but the bill is receiving some push back.

As Rebecca Williams-Agee points out, getting an order of protection is better for dating violence than a regular restraining order because it acknowledges that violence has already occurred and that each subsequent incident has a higher chance of being lethal.

“If the victim has that order of protection on them, immediately showing that to police immediately takes that person to jail…. We like to think that increases their safety because it allows for that more immediate response.”

Concerns have been raised about who would enforce these stipulations because parties don’t come back to court unless an order of protection is violated, but Williams-Agee says that’s one of the advantages of the order—abusers don’t have further contact with the victim.

In a nation where single, un-married people are soon expected to become the majority in society, South Carolina and like-minded states would serve themselves well to get on board now. Considering how difficult it is for individuals to come forward about domestic abuse, the idea that they won’t receive protection when doing so compromises victims’ safety and could even lead to their death.

The state isn’t just behind in their thinking in terms of un-married couples, it also leaves minors and homosexuals without protection. A controversial section that would have allowed parents to file for orders of protective custody on behalf of minors was already taken out of the bill, but Williams-Agee and the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (SCCADVASA) say they plan to fight for that change down the line considering the increase in violence perpetrated against women between the ages of 16 to 24. As difficult as it is for adult women to admit to being physically abused, there’s no telling the impact allowing parents to request orders of protection on behalf of their children could have on reducing repeat offences, not to mention the effect of battery treatment classes at an early age.

SCCADVASA and LGBTQ civil rights group South Carolina Equality also plan to oppose the bill if it doesn’t change its limited definition of a dating relationship as one that is only between a man and a woman. That stipulation leaves 120,000 South Carolinians unprotected and these organizations say gay couples have just as much a chance of being in abusive relationships as straight ones.

It seems South Carolina has been stuck in a very narrow-minded definition of abuse that its residents have suffered for, as evidence by their domestic violence ranking. If they want to keep themselves from becoming first in the nation in terms of violent abuse in relationships, they better consider expanding their legal criteria on this issue. Williams-Agee sums up the issue perfectly when she says, “the dynamics and the consequences of those kinds of relationships are the same whether you’re married or not [and] whether you’re living together or not.”

Do you think South Carolina should allow homosexual and heterosexual victims of dating abuse to seek orders of protection or should individuals have to be married or live-in partners? Do you think parents should be allowed to request orders of protection on behalf of minors?

Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.

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