- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 10, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Gov. Nikki Haley told members of her domestic violence task force Tuesday to take the problem personally, saying if their effort fails, people die.

The Republican governor led the first meeting of the group she created last month to come up with recommendations for stemming South Carolina’s generational cycles of domestic abuse.

She told more than 40 people gathered at the Department of Juvenile Justice that their task involves evaluating how people respond to victims, not how the victim thinks.

“Part of changing the culture is to stop trying to figure out how the victim thinks. We’re never going to fully understand the victim because we don’t live in their shoes,” Haley said during the 30-minute meeting. “It’s not about why; it’s about our response.”

The group’s final report is not due until Dec. 31. But Haley laid out deadlines calling for interim reports due over four phases.

South Carolina has long ranked among the nation’s worst states in violence against women.

“If you think you don’t know anyone involved in a domestic violence situation, you’re not being honest with yourself,” Haley told the group. “We have no option to fail, because if we fail, someone dies.”

The task force’s members represent wide-ranging fields, including law enforcement, courts, churches, health care, social services and cosmetology.

Domestic violence survivor Elizabeth Gray said she endured years of abuse from her ex-husband before getting away through the help of Sistercare in 2010. He was arrested just once - for breaking a restraining order - despite 13 police reports and more than 30 incidents, she said.

“There are a lot of cracks in the system,” said the West Columbia mother of two, who’s on the task force and hopes more survivors share their stories with the group. “It’s very easy to get into an abusive relationship. It’s very hard to get out.”

Haley created the task force after legislators advanced their own proposals for curbing the problem. Haley reiterated her stance Tuesday that no legislation will solve it.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted overwhelmingly last month to advance Chairman Larry Martin’s bill to the Senate floor for debate. A House study committee, created last August, introduced its proposal last month. Both bills would create tiered penalties for abusers, giving prosecutors more options.

Martin’s bill also seeks to prevent known abusers from having easy access to guns. He believes that’s critical to reducing the state’s dismal death statistics, saying lawmakers have studied the issue to death over the last decade, and it’s time to get serious.

Under Martin’s proposal, an abuser could not possess a gun while under protective orders, and those convicted of domestic violence could not possess a gun for a decade after their sentence is served. Some first-time offenders could undergo counseling to avoid that penalty.

The ban is already federal law, which would require federal prosecution. State and local law enforcement can’t enforce it without a corresponding state law.

More than 36,000 people annually report a domestic violence incident to law enforcement agencies around South Carolina, according to the state attorney general’s office.


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