Grant would shield victims

LEXINGTON - Domestic violence victims are often intimidated by alleged batterers even though they are ordered by the courts to stay away, officials say.

That's why Lexington County wants a federal grant to hire special officers to protect the victims, who sometimes change their stories or refuse to cooperate with authorities, officials say.

Lexington County prosecutors say victims have not cooperated in about 80 percent of domestic violence cases in roughly the past two years. But the sheriff's department hopes the new plan - a pricey one that would cost about $1 million - will stop that.

Nicole Howland, who prosecutes most domestic violence cases in Lexington County, has pushed for a $831,000, three-year grant because most couples won't stay apart while their cases are pending. That often results in cases that are difficult to prosecute.

"People kiss and make up," said University of South Carolina law professor Kenneth W. Gaines. "It's hard to keep them adversaries."

Ms. Howland said one accused batterer in Lexington County made almost 300 phone calls to his partner over six weeks despite no-contact orders. Another victim moved to another state, only to return and marry the man she accused of attacking her.

"A lot of women are going to recant because the stakes are high - our marriages, our livelihoods, our children," said Laura Hudson, one of the state's veteran victim rights advocates.

If the county is awarded the grant, two new deputies would be hired and equipped to gather evidence against accused batterers that violate no-contact orders. The deputies would be able to ask a judge to jail offenders for violating the orders.

The deputies also could help prosecute cases with reluctant victims by testifying.

A decision on the grants is likely by late August and could once again put Lexington in the forefront of fighting domestic violence.