As Gov. Jim Hodges noted in his State of the State address, South Carolina is tough on crime, but it doesn't do a good job of protecting its citizens from domestic violence. "We've got to intensify our efforts," he told the Legislature.
Specifically, he's calling for a commission to develop recommendations to deal with the issue. The proposal has rightly drawn praise from advocates for battered women and anti-domestic violence activists.
Vicki Bourus, executive director of the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, praised Hodges for being the first governor to address family violence during his State of the State speech.
"To publicly take a stand and say, `This is not OK. It's not acceptable, it's a shame in our state and we need to do something about it,' is a giant step," Bourus said.
The State Law Enforcement Division reports that about 20,500 South Carolinians were victims of domestic violence in 1998. A separate study by an anti-violence group places the Palmetto State third in the nation in the number of women shot and killed by their husbands or boyfriends -- 58 were killed by their partners in 1996, the latest year the figures were available.
Some lawmakers, however, aren't waiting for a commission to tell them what to do. Rep. Joel Lourie, D-Columbia, is introducing a bill this week that would require police to devote a portion of their continuing-education hours to extra training in dealing with domestic violence.
There are other reforms that don't need to be waited on either, say anti-domestic violence advocates. Some of the more obvious:
Increasing domestic violence training for judges.
Breaking family cycles of abuse by helping kids who see their parents harmed.
Setting up local review boards to find out where the system failed each time somebody is killed by a spouse.
Although Hodges hasn't yet selected who'll serve on the state commission, he'd be well advised to listen to Nancy Barton, director of Sistercare. It's important, she says, that at least one commission member be a woman who has been abused.