Bill would expand protections for more survivors, victims of domestic abuse in SC

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Published: Mar. 11, 2022 at 7:42 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - About half of the reports of intimate partner violence in South Carolina, including murder and assault, are between people who are dating.

According to SLED’s most recent annual statewide crime report, those reports come at a much higher rate than between people who are married, share a child, or live together.

But people in a dating relationship do not currently qualify to receive the same domestic abuse protections as those other groups.

A bipartisan bill moving through the South Carolina House of Representatives would expand those qualifications to protect more victims and survivors of intimate partner violence.

“It’s all part of a much greater effort towards building prevention, building awareness toward healthy relationships, and holding offenders accountable. It’s part of the puzzle, and we think it’s a very, very important part of that puzzle,” South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (SCCADVASA) Executive Director Sara Barber said of the bill, H.3210.

The legislation relates to the state’s Protection From Domestic Abuse Act, which allows for additional legal protections for survivors of domestic abuse.

“That would include access to order of protection and also some collateral consequences on the criminal side, such as people who are convicted of domestic violence are not allowed to possess firearms, which we know is an important part of reducing homicides in those kind of relationships,” Barber said.

To qualify for these protections, survivors have to be a “household member” with the offender, which presently means people who are currently or used to be married, those who share a child, or a woman and man who currently or used to live together.

This bill would change that definition to include people who currently or used to live together, instead of explicitly a man and woman, along with those who currently or used to be in a dating relationship together.

“We have a high rate of domestic abuse in the state of South Carolina, and bills like this will only help lower those numbers,” Rep. Beth Bernstein, D – Richland, said.

Bernstein — who is one of the bill’s sponsors, along with Rep. Neal Collins, R – Pickens, and Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D – Orangeburg — said the legislation came out of discussion in the Joint Citizens and Legislative Committee on Children, of which she and Collins are members.

“Just kind of looking at the stats of South Carolina and domestic partners and the abusive relationships that those relationships sometimes evolve into, we really need it in this state,” Bernstein said.

recent report found about 42% of women and 29% of men in South Carolina are expected to experience intimate partner violence at some point in their lives, with the former statistic consistently ranking South Carolina among the states with the worst rates in that category.

“We think it’s a very important step in providing additional protections from intimate partner violence to dating partners, those people who are currently excluded, even though the dynamics of the violence they experience are exactly the same,” Barber said. “We think it’s so important because we’re looking at a society in which relationships are changing.”

The part of the bill that changes the language from “a male and female who are cohabiting or formerly have cohabited” to “persons who are cohabiting or formerly have cohabited” is to conform with the 2017 South Carolina Supreme Court ruling in Doe v. State, in which the court found that part of the code is unconstitutional because it excludes same-sex relationships.

Most bills, including this one, have to be passed in one chamber of the State House within about the next month, or else they die.

This legislation still needs to be approved twice more in the House of Representatives to beat that deadline and would then head to the Senate for its consideration.

“Hopefully the Senate will see it as important legislation and be able to get it passed,” Bernstein said.

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