Raise your voice against domestic violence

Fourteenth Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone's message about domestic violence is a simple one: If you see something, say something.

It's a message we should heed here and across the state.

In a moving ceremony last week, Attorney General Alan Wilson and victims' family members honored the 13 men and 39 women killed in 2011 by their partners, a record for South Carolina.

Our state ranks second-worst in the country based on the rate women are murdered by men, according to an annual study by the Violence Policy Center.

Nationally, in cases where the victim-to-offender relationship could be identified, 94 percent of female victims in 2010 (1,571 out of 1,669) were murdered by someone they knew, and 65 percent were wives or intimate acquaintances of their killers.

Despite those grim statistics, there is some encouraging news.

Stone reports that the number of domestic violence victims in the 14th Circuit has dropped 34 percent since 2005.

In Beaufort County, there were 323 criminal domestic violence cases in 2010, the Solicitor's Office reports. That dropped to 292 in 2011 and stands at 228 through Oct. 9 of this year.

But in Jasper County, criminal domestic violence cases are up from 31 in 2010 to 76 in 2011. To date in 2012, there have been 67 cases.

Stone has long targeted criminal domestic violence. In 2006, he got a state law change, written to apply only to his five-county circuit, that allows his office to handle first offense domestic violence cases.

Prosecuting first offenses in General Sessions Court rather than Magistrate Court gives victims access to the resources of the Solicitor's Office. That includes an attorney instead of a police officer to prosecute the case and a victim's advocate. Support for the victim, who might be reluctant to testify, can be very important in getting a conviction.

Stone reports that his office has tripled the number of victim's advocates, who work to connect victims to available resources.

That includes CODA, which operates an emergency shelter and offers legal and other services to victims to help break the cycle of abuse.

A look at CODA's website gives a sense of how difficult that can be. While offering help, the site warns that it is impossible to delete all history of online use and urges victims to use a friend's computer or public computers, such as those at libraries, to access the Internet or use e-mail. A big red "Exit" button sits at the top of the website, allowing users to quickly leave the site.

As Stone says, we can all play a part in decreasing this crime. Report domestic violence to the police even if you only have second-hand information. Tell someone in harm's way about CODA and its resources.

If you see something, say something.