This is the difference between a civil case and a criminal one. It’s why criminal cases are captioned “State v. John Doe.”
It’s never Me v. My Husband.
We appreciate the fact that the wife of former South Carolina state Rep. Chris Corley, Heather Corley, has asked the state’s attorney general to drop or reduce domestic assault charges against him. Loved ones often make such concessions.
But it’s important, and right, that the attorney general’s office has declined her request, and at this point is proceeding to an Aug. 7 trial on charges of domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature and pointing and presenting a firearm.
Corley allegedly beat her and pointed a handgun at her in a confrontation last Dec. 26 that authorities say started with a text message that conjured possible infidelity.
“As the beating was happening in the couple’s bedroom,” The Chronicle’s James Folker reported, “Corley noticed that one of his children (ages 8 and 2) was watching through the open door. He stopped, closed the door and resumed the beating, which included him biting her on the nose,” according to a prosecutor.
While she has every right to partially or wholly forgive her husband, she has no right to do so on behalf of society.
Even if she were under no duress to advocate for or to reconcile with him, that’s not necessarily the case for other women. Other women are more likely to succumb to the pressure of an abusive man to drop charges if society allowed them to do so. That only puts women in danger of further abuse.
Indeed, oddly enough, Folker reports that at a January hearing, a prosecutor shared that Ms. Corley “still lived ‘in fear for her life’ and had taken out a restraining order to keep him away from her.”
Moreover, this is not a civil matter in which one party has only aggrieved another. Under our cherished and time-honored system of law, crimes are considered to have been committed not just against a victim but against society as a whole.
That’s never been more true than in a case such as this.
Domestic violence is a critical social ill that has inspired decades of activism and public awareness campaigns to conquer. The costs of domestic violence – both in terms of money, and women’s needless and outrageous suffering and its impact on the greater society – is incalculable.
And in this case, there have been even greater costs: Corley’s alleged crimes necessitated the mobilization of an expensive, multi-level electoral process to replace him in the state legisture and, in an Aug. 22 election, to fill the hole Corley’s replacement left as Aiken County Council chairman.
The whole of society has been victimized.
This is not about retribution. It’s about accountability. And while any domestic violence suspect should be dealt with vigorously, a public official – whom we should hope to hold to an even higher standard than the rest of us – warrants particular answerability.
Again, we sympathize with Ms. Corley. But for the good of any other woman in her place, and for the good of society as a whole, society has to deal with this. And firmly.