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State ranks 8th for domestic violence deaths

Regena Cooper, left, and Wanda Burns share a flame to light their candles during the 12th Annual Beaufort Candlelight Vigil at the Naval Hospital early Thursday evening. The event was held to commemorate the start of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Regena Cooper, left, and Wanda Burns share a flame to light their candles during the 12th Annual Beaufort Candlelight Vigil at the Naval Hospital early Thursday evening. The event was held to commemorate the start of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

It started with what she wore and whom she talked to and ended with a loaded rifle misfiring in her face.

Five years later, Kelly Causey, a 34-year-old veterinary technician, says she has "broken the cycle" of domestic violence while never forgetting the night she nearly became a statistic.

A study released last week by the Violence Policy Center, titled "When Men Murder Women," ranked South Carolina as the eighth-highest in the nation for women killed by men. The rate is the national average, the study said. The report's release coincides with the beginning of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Of the 46 women murdered in the state in 2007, the most recent year cited in the study, most knew their attackers, and two-thirds were the wives, ex-wives or girlfriends of their killers, the report said.

It was Causey's second marriage that nearly ended her life, she says.

"It was always about control," she said. "What I wore, what I did. He didn't want me to talk to my friends or my family. He would take my pay stubs, anything he could use to have control over me.

"By the end, he had me believing that I was worthless, that I couldn't do any better. I was a shell of myself."

In 2004, Causey told the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office her husband choked and raped her before pointing a rifle at her, threatening to kill her and then himself. The rifle misfired, Causey told officers.

The man fled the state and was arrested by the Kentucky State Police almost a year later, according to Beaufort County sheriff's records. He was booked at the Beaufort County jail in 2005, charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct. The charge was later dropped, according to court records.

Now remarried, Causey said the only way to curb the state's domestic violence statistics is to de-stigmatize the crime so people won't be afraid to report it.

"People think that when they see something going on, that it's none of their business and they're afraid to take action," Causey said. "... It is everybody's responsibility to look out for one another."

Domestic violence touches men and women of all races and economic backgrounds, said Martha Lawrence, community educator for Citizens Opposed to Domestic Abuse, known as CODA, a Beaufort nonprofit group that aids domestic-violence victims in Beaufort, Hampton, Jasper and Colleton counties.

"We have provided services to the wealthiest of the wealthy on Hilton Head Island, to the poorest of the rural poor in Hampton and Colleton counties," Lawrence said. "This is an equal-opportunity crime."

Appointed to the S.C. Joint Criminal Domestic Violence Study Committee, state Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort, said she was "disheartened" by the study's results.

"We've got to do better, and I think education and prevention is probably the way to do that," she said. "We have strict laws on the books, but we need to educate people on reporting these crimes and bringing those perpetrating these crimes to justice."

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