Richland County councilwoman seeks to bring end to domestic violence

Richland County Councilwoman Julie-Ann Dixon remembers when she lost her friend to domestic violence. Dixon had seen on television that someone had been killed in the Brookhaven neighborhood, which happened not too long after she was elected in 2013. It didn’t occurred to her at first that someone she knew was involved in the incident.

Richland County Councilwoman Julie-Ann Dixon (right) speaks about domestic violence awareness. (photo by Kelly Petty)

Richland County Councilwoman Julie-Ann Dixon (far right) speaks about domestic violence awareness. (photo by Kelly Petty)

“Later on that evening, I found out that I lost my best friend,” Dixon said through tears. “I’ve lived it, I’ve lost friends and I know what our children go through whenever we don’t come together as a community and address this issue.”

Her friend’s death and her own personal experience with domestic violence have spurred Dixon to bring attention to the issue and to develop solutions to support victims and prevent others from going through the same thing.

“We should no longer put this under the carpet,” Dixon said at a community meeting Tuesday night. “We need to really come together as a community and let’s talk about it, find a reasonable solution to end this and stop being number one on a list that’s not good for us.”

South Carolina ranked No. 1 in the nation in the number of women killed by men, according to the 2013 study by the Violence Policy Center, which is the most recent data on the subject.

Dixon said the biggest problem with ending domestic violence is that victims, their family members and their friends don’t know what to do or which resources to use to help.

Victim empowerment can sometimes be hindered by accepted cultural norms, said Valerie Ekrue, a coordinator with the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.

In her research, she found many black women in South Carolina did not report domestic abuse because of mistrust of law enforcement and the legal system, as well as a cultural tradition of keeping private matters among family.

“You have racial loyalty where African-Americans are historically taught what goes on in this house, stays in this house,” Ekrue said. “They’re less likely to go out and call someone, and sit with an advocate and tell their personal stories.”

Catherine Ross, director of Community Clinical & Educational Services for Sistercare, said women should contact an organization like Sistercare that can get them and their children the assistance they need to transition away from their abuser immediately.

Sgt. Maria Yturria of the Richland County Sheriff’s Department said women also need to reach out to the Sheriff’s Department to get a police escort to their home to collect belongings.

She said women can request that courts place an ankle monitor on a perpetrator to track that person’s whereabouts. If an abuser gets too close to a work or home address, the monitor will alert deputies, according to Yturria.

“It has to come at the victim’s request in order for the judges to grant it,” she said.

Funding still remains an issue when administering prevention and treatment programs. Ginny Waller, executive director of Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands, said the state’s legal system is not equipped with enough attorneys to handle the number of domestic violence cases.

“Nothing is really moving forward within the legal system,” Waller said. “Our arrest rates are extremely low.”

Yturria said law enforcement departments need more officers on duty to handle calls.

“There’s always a need for more officers so that we can do more community outreach, more education, so we don’t have to be tied down with all of these cases,” she said.

Others present during Tuesday’s meeting said providing comprehensive education to young people was key. Sandra Sutton, an assistant solicitor with the 6th Solicitor’s Office, said she thought service-based agencies should expand their partnerships to local schools to capture as many children as possible.

“Everybody doesn’t come in contact with that agency, but everybody’s child is going to come in contact with the school,” she said. “You can catch a wider net of children through the school system than you will be able to through a community agency.”

Ray McCullough, a youth and community development specialist who attended Tuesday night’s meeting, said prevention efforts also need to include special attention to boys to give them the social and life skills to know that abuse and violence is wrong while reinforcing positive behaviors. McCullough said he thinks ending domestic violence must be centered around the home.

“If there is a culture of violence, a culture of certain values, then it’s going to continue,” he said. “We have to empower the families, we have to prepare the young men.”

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