The Difference that Laws (and Attitudes) Make


The South Carolina Post and Courier recently won a Pulitzer Prize for a seven-part series on the root causes of the state’s high domestic homicide and violence rate.  The in-depth article, “Till Death Do Us Part,” shows how both societal attitudes and laws make a life-and-death difference for victims of violence, especially women.

“Interviews with more than 100 victims, counselors, police, prosecutors and judges reveal an ingrained, multi-generational problem in South Carolina, where abusive behavior is passed down from parents to their children. Yet the problem essentially remains a silent epidemic, a private matter that is seldom discussed outside the home until someone is seriously hurt.”

The article is difficult to read because it profiles many of the people who lost their lives to domestic homicide resulting from predictable, preventable patterns of abuse.  The South Carolina state legislature pays lip service to improving legal protections for victims, but has repeatedly failed to act.

Maine does have many good laws to protect victims of abuse, some of which were enacted just recently.

The Maine Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel conducts systematic reviews of domestic homicides and makes recommendations to better prevent violence.  Maine has long had a strong protection from abuse law and this year all Maine law enforcement began using a screening technique to identify the most dangerous abusers.  We made strangulation a more serious crime and police have increased enforcement of the updated aggravated assault law.

But Maine has a long way to come, because 14 out of 21 of the homicides that occurred in our state in 2014 were domestic violence related. Our state has seen tragic cases where more could have been done to stop a progression of violence that ended in murder.

Although the Post and Courier article includes a list of laws and enforcement tactics that could be put into play, the point of the article is to underline that domestic violence can only be eliminated with buy-in from the whole community.

Law enforcement, medical professionals, members of the community, family and friends have to present survivors of violence with options and understanding.

Our take-away from this award-winning article is simply this: as a state, Maine must continue to put laws on the books that help victims and hold perpetrators responsible.  As a society, we need to support healthy relationships and speak out when we see abuse.