Here's a statistic that should horrify every South Carolinian: On a per capita count, men kill more women in that state than any other state.
South Carolina's domestic homicides rose from 38 in 1997 to 47 in 1998, the latest year figures are available, and domestic assaults on women by their intimate partners hit more than 20,000, a state record.
Not all domestic abuse cases are reported, especially in rural areas where women are isolated and public agencies, such as sheriffs' offices and the courts, still hold what might be regarded as old-fashioned attitudes about women. A victim's assistance officer for rural Edgefield County recently reported the sheriff's office gets at least one domestic violence call a day.
Obviously, as Vicki Bourus, executive director of the state Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, notes, this is a serious, even tragic, problem that cries out for remedy. While domestic violence cases are declining nationally - down 21 percent from 1993 - in the Palmetto State they're rising.
Gov. Jim Hodges this year appointed a 25-member domestic violence task force to look into the problem. The panel is looking toward improving coordination, communication and funding among existing domestic violence agencies.
That's a good start, but the most urgent need is for more battered women's shelters, especially in rural areas where it's so hard for women to get any help at all. There are more animal shelters in the state than women's shelters which number only 15, and those are mostly in metro areas.
The state's congressional members also need to get involved (and so, for that matter, does Georgia's). Both states are too populated to qualify for the federal program that makes domestic violence grants available to rural states.
That's a ridiculous standard. The grant should not be based on a state's overall population, but on the number of people living in rural areas. By that measure both the Palmetto and Peach states would qualify.
Other reforms that spring to mind include more domestic violence training for law-enforcement officials and judges and setting up local review boards to investigate how the system broke down whenever someone is killed by a spouse. Anti-domestic violence groups are also right to call for longer jail terms for first or second-offense domestic discord misdemeanors.
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