As 39 silhouettes representing South Carolina victims lost to domestic violence in 2014 lined the steps at Statehouse Thursday morning, surviving families remained hopeful that a new law which took effect this year could help lower the state’s standing as consistently one of the worst for such crimes.
The 18th Annual Silent Witness ceremony was held to remember the lives of both genders lost to domestic violence. The Violence Policy Center analysis of FBI crime data ranked South Carolina as having the highest per-capita rate of women killed by men in 2013 (the most recent year available).
Guest speaker Kristin McKee said she hopes increased awareness of the problem through events like Silent Witness will lead to one less silhouette presented next year.
McKee spoke about her own struggle with an abusive marriage and how towards the end she feared for her life daily. After escaping from her husband, McKee found comfort in helping others get out of situations much like hers and still does today.
“I invite you all to join me in my mission to end violence,” McKee told those in attendance. “To use our stories to help people who are in abusive relationships today. We will speak out and tell our stories and share our resources because there is help. Together we will make a difference.”
In an effort to crack down on the consistent number of spousal and partner abuse cases each year, state legislators passed tougher punishments for those convicted of domestic violence. The new law creates four new tiers for domestic violence offenses based on the circumstances and severity of the incident. The highest offense of domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature would require a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, the next tier of first-degree domestic violence would carry a maximum prison sentence of 10 years, second-degree domestic violence would be punishable by up to three years in prison and a $2,500-$5,000 fine. Those convicted of third-degree domestic violence would face a maximum sentence of 90 days in jail and a $1,000-$2,500 fine.
Reverend Henry McCray, a Manning native whose sister was killed by her husband last year, says the changes are a step in the right direction.
“It should have been done a long time ago,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “But since we’re becoming aware of the intensity of domestic violence, they have made tougher laws. And I’m in favor of that.”
At the end of the ceremony 39 silhouettes were left on the steps as a moment of silence was taken. McKee urged anyone who is victim of domestic violence or knows someone who needs help to please contact their local police department or victim’s shelter immediately.
Kimberly Washington contributed to this report