South Carolina's women are dying, and the state is doing little to nothing about it.
According to a 2013 study by the nonprofit Violence Policy Center, the Palmetto State has the highest rate of female murders at the hands of men in the country, mostly attributed to domestic violence.
In a landmark seven-part series, called "Till death do us part," the Charleston Post and Courier details and dissects the state's horrific statistics, highlighting a murder and domestic violence rate that disproportionately affects women in South Carolina. The state's conservative and religious mores, coupled with its lax laws on domestic violence and guns in particular, contribute to this perfect storm, where more than 300 women have been murdered in just one decade. As the series' authors note:
It's a staggering toll that for more than 15 years has placed South Carolina among the top 10 states nationally in the rate of women killed by men. The state topped the list on three occasions, including this past year, when it posted a murder rate for women that was more than double the national rate.
Nationwide, an average of three women are killed by acts of domestic violence a day. Yet the newspaper reports that "even as domestic violence rates have tumbled 64% nationwide over the past two decades," South Carolina's rate has remained steadily, eerily, the same.
Depressingly, while all of the state's 46 counties have animal shelters, there are only 18 domestic violence shelters. Meanwhile, an estimated 36,000 domestic violence incidents are reported annually. These are women like Therese D'Encarnacao, who, after being physically and verbally abused by her husband for 13 years, was then shot by him between the eyes, before he turned the gun on himself. Although D'Encarnacao survived, she bears the scars of that day with her forever.
So what's contributing to South Carolina's dubious honor as consistently leading the country for its rate of male-on-female homicides?
Of the "more than 100 victims, counselors, police, prosecutors and judges" interviewed for the expose, a majority attested that generational conservative values played a major role, inadvertently or not, in fostering this culture of violence against women. Gendered violence thrives in environments where women are subjugated and encouraged to keep marital matters private. Add to this a conservative ideology that looks down on divorce, and you have a volatile mix. "There is a belief that men are totally dominant and women are supposed to be in the bedroom and the kitchen," violence survivor Jenna Henson Black told the Post and Courier.
But while conservative values may influence a community, there are those who have the power to create safeguards for the underserved and the vulnerable in that community. Unfortunately, this too has largely fallen through the cracks in South Carolina, where domestic violence laws appear to have been sidelined, a strong contrast with the relative ease with which the state's legislature has passed laws expanding gun carrying rights.
Clearly, the legislature has dropped the ball, and thousands of women may be suffering, even dying, because of it. As Amanda Hess noted over at Slate, "Hopefully this important piece will compel the South Carolina legislature to actually do something, after letting all but one bill addressing domestic violence die in committee in 2014... Protecting animals is an important part of government, of course. But it's time to start keeping the women of South Carolina safe, not just the dogs and cats."
Image Credit: Associated Press
So far, the state's female governor, Nikki Haley, has not made a public statement about the statements or conclusions made by this comprehensive report. If her record is any indication — Haley attempted to cut hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding from rape crisis centers in 2012 — she may need a not-so-gentle-push.
On the other hand, the power of the pen has had some success in similar cases. Mike Ross, the Democratic nominee for governor of Arkansas, a state that has had its own struggles with domestic violence, adopted an ambitious domestic violence platform which was inspired by a Huffington Post investigative report on domestic violence victim Laura Aceves.