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  • Jennifer Ashikari

Intimate partner violence flourishes in the Palmetto State

When it comes to the safety of women, there are few states more dangerous than South Carolina.

South Carolina earned in 2019 the title of the sixth worst state to live in the United States, with the homicide rate for men killing women 1.5 times the national average.

The state has consistently ranked in the top 10 for the most dangerous place for women to live in for two decades.

Domestic violence, now called Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), has been a long standing issue in South Carolina, and has only worsened in recent years.

While many believe that the current Coronavirus pandemic has been the cause of this spike, it is irresponsible to ignore the long-standing issues that have contributed to IPV.

Sexual violence affects millions of people each year in the United States (graphic via Tri-County Speaks)

Intimate Partner Violence is a cycle

College of Charleston Professor Von Bakanic is a longtime volunteer at Tri-County Speaks, a Charleston-based organization that provides resources for men and women who have been the victims of sexual assault/rape.

While sexual assault may sound irrelevant to the issue of IPV, it is actually a very common form of abuse between partners, and Bakanic has seen first hand the effects of the abuse.

Abuse, she explains, is a cycle of acute violence followed by calm, where the person with the upper hand in the physical altercation is suddenly “very, very sorry and will never do it again.”

“Then they get back in your good graces, but then the whole cycle starts over again and this time it’s slightly faster than last time,” Bakanic says.

It’s a toxic cycle that allows the perpetrator to continue to manipulate the victim and is incredibly common amongst IPV couples.

Physical abuse and sexual assault are very common forms of abuse in domestic relationships, with 1 in 4 women , or 25%, across the country experiencing extreme intimate partner violence in their lives.

The problem is even more prevalent in South Carolina, with 42.3% of women experiencing intimate partner violence and 57 women murdered in 2019 due to IPV.

While physical violence is the main focus when talking about IPV, it’s also important to recognize the emotional abuse that many of these women face, which includes verbal abuse and stalking.

When young love turns turbulent

Lynn was a long-time resident of Aiken, South Carolina, and was in an abusive relationship for around two years.

She was born to a single mother, who often had abusive partners coming in and out of their lives.

“I know things definitely would get physical with certain men, cause my mom would have bruises the next day." - Lynn, IPV victim

As an adult, Lynn got into her first serious relationship at 22 after distrusting men for most of her life.

The relationship started off well, and she thought that she had found the man of her dreams.

He took care of her and spoiled her endlessly - a welcome change from the financial struggles and violence she experienced in her youth.

But things didn’t stay that way.

“He started getting more jealous and clingy. This escalated to looking through my phone and stalking me while I was out without him. When I eventually noticed and confronted him, things turned physical.” - Lynn, IPV victim

While stalking and verbal abuse are often a first step before leading to physical violence, both ares incredibly damaging in their own right and areenough reason to leave a relationship.

The many causes of IPV

There are many reasons that IPV is far more prevalent in South Carolina, but the main issues relate to women’s economic status, education level, and access to healthcare.

While these factors may seem irrelevant at first glance, they are extremely influential when it comes to IPV.

People in the South, especially women, tend to lack proper sexual education due to religious or conservative perspectives, Bakanic notes, and this can impact their likelihood for bad relationships.

“There's no proper public education in place that requires sex ed to graduate,” Bakanic said, noting that it’s just one two-week course paid for by the state that can be taken in high school and is an abstinence-only program. “No birth control or abortion is mentioned at all.”

Bakanic also mentioned that parents are able to sign a slip that allows their child to forgo the sex ed course.

This lack of sexual education is the first of many instances where the state will fail women, because when women and their partners are not aware of contraception, or healthy sex habits, women become vulnerable to teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

These consequences, specifically teen pregnancy, often lead to the women becoming trapped in a toxic relationship with an abusive man, Bakanic notes.

And because the abusive men an are often the breadwinners as well, women end up taking jobs for minimum wage - creating an economic dependency that keeps them in the abusive relationships.

They work minimum wage jobs while also attempting to afford daycare, groceries, rent, etc.

“Part-time working women in South Carolina make around $30,000 a year,” Bakanic points out, resulting in a huge reliance on their partners to keep the family afloat.

This financial reliance makes it incredibly hard for these women to leave, because without the funds to find new housing and childcare, they would be homeless and starving.

While there are many resources in South Carolina that are focused on helping these women, many of them have limited resources and capacity.

“We have a domestic violence shelter in town but it has a limited number of beds,” says Bakanic. “We have a women's and children's homeless shelter, but you can't stay there all day.”

With nowhere to turn,, many abused women feel forced to just stay.

And many face huge medical costs due to their injuries from abuse as well.

From emotional abuse that requires mental health treatment to physical/sexual abuse that requires medical attention, these women need access to healthcare in order to heal.

But many, due in part to their poor financial situation, do not have healthcare, and therefore cannot afford to seek outside help from therapists or doctors. .

Bakanic reveals that one of the best ways to stop IPV is for women to get “counseling and to get medical attention or go to a clinic.”

While this is a seemingly simple solution, she goes on to say that “you need health insurance, but we don't have the medical resources that support women.”

Whether it be from depression, an STD, or a broken hand, many abused women have no choice but to suffer due to lack of healthcare and financial resources to pay out of pocket.

This becomes an endless cycle of injuries and mental illness, and more often than not, leads to the victim’s subsequent death via homicide (often a murder-suicide).

Breaking the cycle

The impact of a traumatic childhood can often lead to a traumatic adulthood, and the cycle is a hard one to break for both the victim and the abuser.

Lynn was subject to abuse for years before she finally found the courage to leave, and her unborn child was the reason.

“I didn’t want him to grow up with an abusive father,” Lynn says. “I did not want him to grow up to be an abusive man himself.”

Abuse is a reckless and often generational pattern that is hard to break, but Lynn had the strength to take the first steps.

She contacted a women’s shelter and created a plan to leave.

Today, she is a single mother to a 10-yea-old boy and has created a successful life for them.

How has she healed so well? “Therapy,” she says.

Although this is not the case for enough women, highlighting success stories shows other women that it is possible to leave.

Women have been speaking out against Intimate Partner Violence for years, but it is still a growing issue today.

The gun problem

The isolation that was caused by Covid-19 forced many women to stay with their abusers, and exacerbated the pre-existing abuse.

In these close quarters, the violence escalated, and women lost their lives.

In 2019, 57 women in South Carolina were murdered by men. Of the 52 murders in which a weapon was identified, 79% of these deaths (41) involved a firearm.

The state’s leniency on gun laws and the easy access to guns is a growing problem that directly relates to intimate partner violence, because women are five times more likely to be murdered when their partner has a gun.

With the existence of gun shows, as well as store fronts, that allow same day sales to customers puts guns in the hands of abusers.

The pandemic has also led to an increase in gun sales, which seems to have furthered this issue.

While there are some laws in place that prevent IPV offenders from legally obtaining a gun for the length of their probation, this is not regularly enforced.

More often than not these abusers maintain, or subsequently obtain, guns and weaponize them against their partners.

Even if this law was enforced, many women do not report their abuse in the first place due to fear.

A study found that 4 out of 5 women were afraid to call the police in the future, with 70% afraid that it would make things worse and 59% afraid the police would not believe them.

Women who do call the police have even reported to have had their own honesty questioned, and 1 out of 4 women (24%) have been arrested, or threatened with arrest, instead of their abuser.

“We have one of the lowest conviction rates for domestic violence” and the abusers are often free to go shortly after, Bakanic notes.

They go back to their partner, and more often than not, the abuse worsens after a police intervention, she states.

Organizations ready to help

Despite these bleak statistics, there are organizations and programs built to help these women dealing with IPV.

My Sister’s House is a Charleston-based women’s shelter that has been serving the community for over 40 years. They provide beds for women and their children in the event of a crisis and provide counseling, housing referrals, and employment opportunities, among other services.

The Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) also provides services for victims of IPV and rape.

"They have counselors here," Bakanic says. "You can go and sign up and they’ll do low-cost or free counseling.”

Additionally, they can provide victims of rape and sexual assault with medications and treatments to prevent STDs and AIDS.

These organizations, along with others, are doing the work to protect women from a deadly relationship, and by supporting these facilities, lives will be saved.

Donate, volunteer, and never be afraid to ask for help. You are not alone, and you can make it out alive.

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