A few weeks ago, a man was charged with a double homicide in Sumter, South Carolina. The man was accused of killing a woman he was involved in a romantic relationship with. He was also accused of killing her 5-year old daughter. He may have killed another woman in a different state about one month prior to the double homicide in Sumter. In a different case, a woman in Richland County was charged with murder. She had allegedly stabbed her boyfriend. Police had responded to 52 calls for service from the couple’s residence in 2019. In court, the accused claimed that she had been the victim of domestic violence at her boyfriend’s hands. His family claimed that the accused woman was the violent one and had previously cut off the deceased man’s ear.
In thinking about these horrific tragedies, I ponder if these people would be alive today if something had been done differently? Did law enforcement do everything they could have done to protect them? Should the law enforcement have arrested someone during those 52 times that they were called to that home? If the abuser had been arrested and convicted, would these victims still be alive today? If our laws were stricter, would that 5-year-old little girl have started kindergarten this year? Of course, no one will ever know the answer to these questions.
Currently, police officers have discretion whether to arrest or not arrest if they have probable cause to believe that a person is committing or has freshly committed an act of domestic violence. Would a change in the law requiring officers to arrest when there is probable cause help us lower our domestic violence related homicides? Or, would it just lead to less victims calling the police? Again, I don’t know the answer.
One thing I do know is that there are free resources available to victims of domestic violence who are ready to get out of the abusive relationship. Lighthouse for Life provides “freedom bags” full of essentials when a victim leaves an abusive relationship. There are domestic violence shelters like Sister Care and the YWCA that offer emergency housing and counseling. South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS) offers free legal assistance to victims of domestic violence. SCLS can help victims get an Order of Protection, custody of their children, or even a divorce from the abuser. These are just a few of the many resources available. You can apply for our help by calling 1-888-346-5592 or online at www.sclegal.org. Our eligibility for free legal help depends on your income and your legal problem.
In 2018, 41 people lost their lives in South Carolina as a result of domestic violence. That is 41 too many. October is domestic violence awareness month. If you or someone you know needs assistance in getting out of an abusive relationship, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).