And why you should, too.
I’ve spent the past two years or so sharing my perspective, often with my tongue held firmly in my cheek, about the people, places and culture of South Carolina. Today, I won’t hold my tongue at all, but will go full Yankee on you.
I’ve made no secret that much of South Carolina culture and politics causes me embarrassment, most of which I can laugh off. However, the fact that I live in the state that boasts the highest rate in the nation of women murdered by men makes my blood boil. South Carolina is at or near the top of too many embarrassing lists, but this statistic can no longer be kept buried on the back pages of unread newspapers. Shame on the legislators, educators, clergy and citizens – especially the women – of South Carolina and beyond who remain ignorant, silent and idle about this epidemic by not creating and demanding solutions. I’m talking to YOU.
The root of the problem
South Carolina’s violence-against-women culture is perpetuated by citizens who complacently allow the good ol’ boy network to rule the roost with weak laws and hypocritical Bible belt values. This Civil War-era mindset succeeds in keeping women right where the men want them: in the background. They know that women are intuitive, and a woman with a voice means potential exposure of the ineffective boys’ club.
Rather than empower women, in South Carolina we demean them.
Even the University of South Carolina’s mascot is a cock, for God’s sake!
Proof of this culture lies in the fact that not one of South Carolina’s 46 counties has a female sheriff. Our state law enforcement agency is led by men. All seven congressional seats are filled by men. In fact, only four women have ever served South Carolinians in the U.S. House of Representatives – the most recent ending her term back in 1993. No woman has ever represented South Carolina in the U.S. Senate. Let me repeat that: In 226 years of statehood, South Carolinians have NEVER sent a woman to represent them in the U.S. Senate.
Instead, we support ancient senators in office who legislate from a hospital bed, vote and revote sheriffs into 40-year terms and re-elect politicians who blatantly disrespect women.
In 2010 we finally elected our first female governor. Nikki Haley is of the generation of women who benefited most from women’s rights and is now in position to be speaking loud and clear on this issue. Instead she slashed funding for domestic violence and sexual assault programs in 2012 saying in part,
“Each of these lines attempts to serve a portion of our population for which we extend our sympathy and encouragement, but nevertheless, it is only a small portion of South Carolina’s chronically ill or abused.” (Emphasis mine)
She’s talking about women who are at risk of dying by the hands of men who profess to love them. Her many other shocking missteps are fodder for another [very long] blog post.
Of course, South Carolina’s perpetual poverty, unemployment and education problems also factor into the issue of domestic violence.
Will things ever change?
Has help for these women finally arrived? Charleston’s “Post and Courier” researched the subject in-depth and wrote a seven-part report entitled “Til Death Do Us Part.” The report was the subject of a segment on Public Radio International’s program “The Take Away” the other day. I listened to it on the way to work with tears of fury streaming down my face.
A few teasers from the article:
- All 46 counties have at least one animal shelter to care for stray dogs and cats, but the state has only 18 domestic violence shelters to help women trying to escape abuse in the home.
- South Carolina’s murder rate for women is more than double the national rate.
- Maximum days in jail for first-time domestic abusers in South Carolina: 30 days
- More than a third of men charged with domestic killings over the past decade had at least one prior arrest for criminal domestic violence or assault.
- The only consistent state money budgeted for programs and protecting victims of domestic violence is a portion of proceeds from marriage license fees, which equates to roughly $22 per victim.
- State legislatures put up about a dozen bills aimed at protecting victims of domestic violence. All died except one, which protects the welfare of family pets left in the care of a person with pending domestic abuse charges.
The “Post and Courier” report offers insight into what other states are doing to reduce domestic violence and protect victims. The national rates have been declining for years, so we know it’s possible for South Carolina to get this under control. The women I’m talking about live next door to you, teach your children, share your office space and sit next to you in church. They don’t have a voice. Your silence and inaction keep these women at risk.
Be a role model
If you can’t be bothered reading the report and educating yourself on the issue, you’re part of the problem. Women in South Carolina who don’t run for office or encourage and support other women running for office are part of the problem. Men who discourage or prevent women from participating in the public conversation and running for office are part of the problem. Governor Nikki Haley, you are part of the problem. Our attorney general, the S.C. Department of Social Services, every sheriff and police department, church, local media outlet and emergency medical professional in South Carolina should be stepping out, speaking up and taking action against our culture of women as things to be played with, humiliated, and abused.
The culture in South Carolina has to change and it has to begin with you and me.
Not everyone is in a position to make big changes. But anyone can contribute to the solution. One simple step would be to share this post or the “Post and Courier” report with friends, family, co-workers and legislators. Talk about the issue. Raise your voice. Don’t vote for candidates who won’t address the issue. Volunteer for organizations that are part of the solution. Get your church involved.
I’ll be Tweeting, posting and emailing the link to this article to every person or agency mentioned in this post. You can do that, too. Some of us can do much more.
Silent acceptance of the status quo keeps women at risk. The statistics prove that your silence could one day result in the funeral of your daughter or granddaughter.