Friday, April 22, 2005

South Carolina State Legislator's Comments Highlight Need for Domestic Violence Education

A state legislator’s recent comments during a television interview highlight the diverse need for domestic violence education in South Carolina, local officials say. State Rep. John Graham-Altman, R-Charleston, drew fire on April 20th after criticizing victims of domestic violence during an interview with WIS-TV. “There ought not to be a second offense,” Altman said. “The woman ought not to be around the man. I mean you women want it one way and not another. Women want to punish the men, and I do not understand why women continue to go back around men who abuse them.”

“There’s still a lot of myths and ignorance in our legislators,” said Martha Busterna, director of Greenwood’s Sexual Trauma & Counseling Center. “It’s outrageous to think we’re that far behind, but we’re one of the leaders in the country for domestic violence numbers.” On April 18, the House Judiciary Committee tabled the Protect Our Women in Every Relationship (POWER) Act, which sought to make Criminal Domestic Violence crimes a felony for the second offense. The decision to table the bill essentially delayed further action on it for the remainder of the year. In a tape of the committee meeting obtained by The (Columbia) State newspaper, Altman asked why POWER specifically protected women. Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Harrison, R-Richland, suggested calling the bill the “Protecting Our People in Every Relationship Act” — or “POPER” — the newspaper reported. A voice on the tape is heard pronouncing it “Pop her.” Then another says “Pop her again” followed by laughter.

“And they wonder why we rank in the bottom on women in office and we lead in women getting killed by men,” state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, who sponsored the bill, said later. “It was done in bad taste and the wrong message was conveyed,” State Rep. Gene Pinson, R-Greenwood, said of Altman’s comments. “Although I think there was some substance to his words. It was not what was said, but the way it was verbalized.” Pinson said many people don’t understand why victims of domestic violence return to their abusers. “I’m around different abuse situations enough to know why people go back,” Pinson said. “Some of it’s economic, some of it’s to protect the family unit. Some of it’s in hope that it will be better next time. But we’re here to protect people from being battered and abused, not to encourage it.”

“I think it’s just a matter of people not having an understanding of domestic violence,” said MEG’s House Director Alice Hodges. MEG’s House is a shelter for abused women and services McCormick, Edgefield and Greenwood counties. “We have people that don’t understand the dynamics, they don’t understand why women stay or why women choose to go back,” she said. “This is not a woman’s issue, this is a family issue. It doesn’t just affect the woman, it also affects the children. And, of course, we have men who are victims.”

Busterna said she was “appalled” by Altman’s words, but believed they may have positive repercussions. “It’s opened up some new avenues for domestic violence to be discussed among advocates and legislators in this state,” she said. “It’s really brought attention to our need to improve domestic violence laws. Something good has come from his ignorance.” In South Carolina, criminal domestic violence acts are classified as misdemeanors for the first three offenses. A bill is expected to be introduced in the House next week to make a third CDV offense a felony. (Source: Greenwood Index Journal)

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