I got the idea to write about domestic violence a couple of months ago after reading a story about a man who was sentenced to three years in jail for throwing a puppy off a balcony, three floors up. The judge in the case said he wanted to send a message that cruelty to animals wouldn't be tolerated.
But what about domestic violence? It seems to me that when a man beats up his wife or a wife beats up her husband, few take notice, but hurt a dog and you go to jail.
Ellen Steinberg, assistant solicitor for the Ninth Judicial Circuit, says a first-time domestic violence conviction carries a sentence of up to 30 days in jail or a fine of up to $2,500. The fines can be suspended upon completion of a 26-week batterer treatment program.
Subsequent sentences are harsher. A second conviction will bring the offender a fine of $2,500 to $5,000 and a minimum of 30 days in jail and a maximum of one year in jail; the court can also suspend the fine upon completion of a batterer treatment program. A third conviction carries a sentence of one to five years in jail.
Steinberg says she tries some 50 cases monthly in North Charleston alone, but many reported offenses never go to trial because victims usually drop charges.
Nationally, South Carolina ranked sixth in the number of domestic violence-related homicides in 2006. Last year, there were 50 homicides, 40 female and 10 male victims. The state ranked seventh nationally in 2005.
Elmire Raven, executive director at My Sister's House, a haven for battered women and their children, says statistics show battered spouses typically flee their abusive environments five to seven times before leaving permanently. My Sister's House serves some 500 individuals annually.
Raven says that children in homes where there is domestic violence are victims, even if they are not being abused directly. These children sometimes subconsciously seek abusive relationships or become abusers themselves, thereby continuing the cycle of violence.
Family members or friends who suspect that abuse is occurring should encourage their loved ones to take advantage of support groups and counseling and to let them know they don't have to face the problem alone, Raven says.
Eugene Washington is addressing the problem from another angle. Following an incident involving a Fairfield County man who set his wife on fire, Washington realized a greater emphasis should be placed on abusers, 90 percent of whom are men. In 2004 he founded the Healing Hands Project.
The project takes a panel of survivors, including a male abuser, to various venues to discuss the issue. The group performs skits designed to educate and inform.
He also realizes many victims stay in violent relationships because the most dangerous time for victims is when they prepare to leave a bad situation. Still, the sooner a victim leaves an abusive relationship, the better their chance of survival. As a result, the organization also offers support and options for victims as well.
For more information about the Healing Hands Project, call (803) 786-1051. The number for My Sister's House 24-hour hotline is 1-800-273 HOPE (4673).