South Carolina: Where Men Murder Women and Legislators Don’t Care

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Aug. 20 2014 12:46 PM

South Carolina: Where Men Murder Women and Legislators Don’t Care

South Carolina leads the nation in domestic homicide.

Photo by GrAl/Shutterstock

Tuesday evening, the Charleston Post and Courier released a massive seven-part series on South Carolina’s failure to take domestic violence seriously—a failure that has resulted in the state leading the nation in the murder rate of women at the hands of men (currently the best measure we have for domestic homicide). The series, titled “Till Death Do Us Part,” is the result of interviewing “more than 100 victims, counselors, police, prosecutors and judges” to create a multimedia story chronicling the failures of legislators, law enforcement, social services, and even churches to do enough to fight the problem of domestic violence. Journalists Doug Pardue, Glenn Smith, Jennifer Berry Hawes, and Natalie Caula Hauff unflinchingly place much of the blame on South Carolina culture: heavily conservative values about marriage and gender roles, as well as an enthusiasm for guns that makes it nearly impossible to get them out of the hands of men who want to kill women.

Amanda Marcotte Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based writer and DoubleX contributor. She also writes regularly for the Daily Beast, AlterNet, and USA Today. Follow her on Twitter.

South Carolina, they write, is a state “where men have long dominated the halls of power, setting an agenda that clings to tradition and conservative Christian tenets about the subservient role of women,” leading to “a tolerance of domestic violence.” Even though research shows that the murder rate from domestic violence “declines three months” after a couple has been kept apart and “drops sharply after a year’s time,” power players in the state frequently prioritize keeping couples together over victims’ safety.


For instance, the Post and Courier interviewed state House Minority Leader J. Todd Rutherford, a Democrat, about his refusal to support any bills increasing the maximum penalty for a first-time domestic violence offense, which is currently 30 days in jail. (The maximum penalty for beating a dog, the Post and Courier notes, is five years.) Rutherford “said such laws fail to take into account that many cases involve families that might be preserved,” arguing that women frequently drop the charges because they “realize the destructive consequences for the whole family.” Never mind that the belief that women are supposed to move heaven and earth to make their marriages work causes victims to stick by men they know are dangerous.

The Post and Courier found plenty of Republicans who were just as quick to look to platitudes about family and faith in order to avoid the realities of what domestic violence victims need to survive. State Sen. Tom Corbin, when justifying his resistance to any laws that would make it easier to keep guns out of the hands of abusers, said, “There needs to be a lot more love for Jesus in the world, and I think that would curb a lot of violence.”

As the Post and Courier writers point out, religion “can fuel the problem, if inadvertently,” by teaching that women are meant to be submissive, suffering is holy, and divorce is sinful. Not just in South Carolina: Of the 10 states with the highest rate of men killing women, nearly all are states, such as Oklahoma and West Virginia, that have the same kind of highly religious, highly conservative culture.

Of course, changing the culture of a state is a deeply complex issue, but, as the Post and Courier staff notes, there are a number of policy fixes that could go a long way toward protecting victims, starting with upping the first-time penalty for domestic battery from a maximum of 30 days to a year, to give victims time to escape the financial and emotional hold their abusers have over them.

They also recommend passing a law banning abusers from owning guns and putting teeth into it by giving the police authority to confiscate guns of those “convicted of criminal domestic violence or facing an active restraining order.” Research shows that when abusers have access to guns, the chance of domestic homicide goes up, and laws that ban abusers from buying guns are associated with dropping rates of intimate homicide. They also push for a more comprehensive approach to the problem, with social services and law enforcement working together, and an understanding that domestic violence is a chronic problem, much as we’ve seen in states like Massachusetts or Maryland.

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. “The lone exception” that actually got a chance to be voted on and was passed into law? “[C]ourt-ordered protection for the pets of the victims of domestic violence.” 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. 


The World

The Budget Disaster that Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

Are the Attacks in Canada a Sign of ISIS on the Rise in the West?

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

Is It Offensive When Kids Use Bad Words for Good Causes?

Fascinating Maps Based on Reddit, Craigslist, and OkCupid Data


The Real Secret of Serial

What reporter Sarah Koenig actually believes.


The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

In Praise of 13th Grade: Why a Fifth Year of High School Is a Great Idea

A Comically Inane Court Opinion Just Upheld Puerto Rico’s Gay Marriage Ban

  News & Politics
Oct. 23 2014 3:55 PM Panda Sluggers Democrats are in trouble. Time to bash China.
Oct. 23 2014 5:53 PM Amazon Investors Suddenly Bearish on Losing Money
Oct. 23 2014 5:08 PM Why Is an Obscure 1968 Documentary in the Opening Credits of Transparent?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
Oct. 23 2014 6:07 PM Devil in a Trenchcoat Will the new NBC series bring Constantine into the mainstream, or ruin the character forever?
Future Tense
Oct. 23 2014 5:53 PM South Florida’s Desperate Secession Movement
  Health & Science
Oct. 23 2014 5:42 PM Seriously, Evolution: WTF? Why I love the most awkward, absurd, hacked-together species.
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.