Every year, thousands of South Carolinians are impacted by domestic violence.
In 2022, domestic violence organizations responded to almost 39,000 requests for emergency shelter or other help from people experiencing violence in their home. Around 42 percent of South Carolina women are estimated to have experienced at least one incident of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking during their lifetime.
Behind those numbers are people’s lives. And because those numbers are so high, somebody you know has been a victim of domestic violence. It may be a family member, friend, colleague, neighbor, or even you.
Often people only believe victims if they can see bruises or other injuries, but domestic violence is more than physical violence and can also include emotional, verbal, sexual, financial or spiritual abuse. These unhealthy and abusive behaviors often begin long before the physical violence that is then used to enforce them.
Survivors are often asked “Why didn’t you leave?” It is critical to understand that leaving can be the most dangerous time of all. Abusive partners can make it difficult for victims to escape by threatening to hurt them or a family member if they leave.
In September, Dominique Bolen Walker was shot and killed by her ex-husband who invaded her Lexington County home in the middle of the night. Her nine-year-old son was there. As her ex-husband fled, he fired on law enforcement, a stark reminder that officers responding to a call, children, and other family members are also commonly killed and traumatized.
Dominique knew that she was in imminent danger and had filed for an order of protection. A court date was scheduled within the period required by state law, but she was murdered before the hearing could take place. When women tell us that they think their partner may kill them, we have to believe them and respond to the acute danger which they are in.
Dominque’s story is all too common in our state. In 2021, 57 people were killed by someone they loved. In around 70% of these, a gun was the weapon used. The presence of a gun exponentially increases the danger for women who have experienced violence from a partner. If an abuser has access to a gun, it is five times more likely that they will kill their victim. We cannot become numb to the grief and impact on families and communities as we witness the ongoing loss that domestic violence causes. Each of us has a role in changing the narrative about what domestic violence is, to whom it happens, and how we can support those who are experiencing it and prevent it entirely.
This Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I ask that you think about how you might spark the change needed to build a South Carolina free from domestic violence. Learn how to recognize the signs, how to respond to a friend experiencing violence, and what resources are available in your area that can help. Talk with your children, your friends, and your faith community about the importance of healthy relationships. Learn about policy changes that may make a difference and contact your elected officials to urge them to think about how their decisions may help prevent and reduce domestic violence. Let them know that you are a voting constituent who cares about this issue.
The end of domestic violence for somebody you know can start with you.
Sara Barber is the executive director of the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.