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York Rep. Tommy Pope named to SC task force on domestic abuse

Gov. Nikki Haley on Thursday created another task force charged with finding a way to stem South Carolina’s generational cycles of domestic abuse, on the heels of legislators advancing their own proposals.

The executive order that Haley signed lists 40 agencies, associations and groups that will be represented, including courts, cosmetologists, churches, legislators and survivors. Their recommendations aren’t due until Dec. 31.

“I knew this wasn’t going to be a quick fix, but I’m OK. I don’t mind if this is going to take us longer,” Haley said.

Among those named to the task force is S.C. Rep. Tommy Pope, R-York, who said he hopes the task force can get to the “root issues and root causes” surrounding domestic violence.

Sponsoring new legislation to combat domestic violence won’t do any good unless lawmakers and those in the criminal justice system really understand it.

“I’m excited to see if we can start getting to and addressing those root issues,” Pope said.

As a former prosecutor, Pope said he spent a lot of time with victims of domestic violence. He said one victim stands out in his memory. Despite the violence she experienced at the hands of her boyfriend, the woman still felt like she needed to put his happiness first. She also asked Pope if he could guarantee her safety if she testified in the trial against her boyfriend.

“There are these underlying elements and bigger issues that drew me towards wanting to be involved (with the task force),” he said. “Ultimately, the end product will hopefully be knowledge and that knowledge will position us to act.”

Domestic violence in S.C.

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

The House and Senate have separate bills aimed at curbing the problem. Senate Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin, R-Pickens, said Haley’s task force will complement and not delay legislative efforts.

Haley’s order comes one week after the Judiciary Committee voted overwhelmingly to advance Martin’s bill to the Senate floor for debate. A House study committee, created last August, introduced its proposal this week. Both bills would create tiered penalties for abusers, giving prosecutors more options.

Haley said her group will focus more on community-level solutions. While applauding the Legislature’s efforts, she said domestic violence is a cultural issue that won’t be solved by legislation alone.

“We want to make sure we know what to watch for when it comes to domestic violence victims on the ground level – the cosmetologist doing a person’s hair and knowing something’s wrong, the pastor who can tell a difference in a family, a teacher who sees a child and knows something’s going on,” she said. “We’re going to take the stigma out of domestic violence and make sure we know we are all responsible.”

Haley: All are affected

Saying that all South Carolinians have been touched by domestic violence in some way, she noted a friend of hers “got pregnant early just to get out of the house.”

But she said it was an HBO documentary she saw on domestic violence that prompted her to form the group. An adviser to the film will advise the task force, Haley said.

Her order specifies the group will work in three separate committees, as the House committee did. The group will meet at least four times this year, Haley said.

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal will lead the group looking into potential changes in the criminal justice system.

“Domestic violence is a learned habit and way of doing things,” she said. “We’ve got to break that cycle.”

The Herald’s Rachel Southmayd contributed.