Domestic violence activities punctuate monthlong awareness campaign

October 25, 2023
Scarlett Wilson, Solicitor for Ninth Circuit Solicitor’s Office, speaks at the Oct. 3 press conference hosted by MUSC and My Sister’s House recognizing Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Photos by Sarah Pack

As part of the Lowcountry area’s monthlong recognition of October as Domestic Violence and Intimate Partner Violence Awareness Month, local advocates organized an event which featured an expert who led a training webinar on the reality of nonfatal strangulation as a form of domestic violence. 

The two-hour hybrid event took place on Oct. 24, at the Keith Summey North Charleston Library. Sponsored by the MUSC Intimate Partner Violence Steering Committee and My Sister’s House, and with the help of community partners, the program featured Brian Bennett, an instructor with the Behavioral Science Unit of the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy. Bennett is an expert in domestic violence, vulnerable adult victimization and strangulation. He is also the author of a felony strangulation bill that proposes to classify strangulation as a felony in S.C. As of 2023, South Carolina and Ohio are the only two states that have not passed felony strangulation bills to protect their citizens. 

Pinwheels were placed in the Medical District Greenway on Oct. 2 signifying the different years victims of domestic violence were killed. (Photo by Sarah Pack) 
Pinwheels were placed in the Medical District Greenway on Oct. 2 signifying the different years victims of domestic violence killed.

According to Bennett, the act of strangulation – the restriction of air flow or blood circulation to a person, caused by external pressure to the throat or neck or the blocking of the nose or mouth – is a common form of assault that is used not only in domestic violence but in intimate partner violence, child abuse, sexual assault and human trafficking. Bennett works with physicians and coroners to study signs of strangulation and the results. 

Karen Hughes, R.N., and licensed master's social worker Elizabeth Earles, both co-chairs of MUSC’s Domestic Violence and Intimate Partner Violence steering committee at MUSC Health, joined Bennett in leading the Oct. 24 training.

“Strangulation is a crime for victims of dating violence and domestic violence, and many times, there can be no evidence. MUSC may be the only hospital in the Tri-county that conducts a proper strangulation assessment for all victim-patients. It’s critical that residents in Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties understand this importance in the community,” said Hughes.

Organizers set out to include the participation of paramedics, emergency medical technicians, law enforcement personnel, nurses, physicians, counselors and other front-line providers who offer victim support services to those who experience domestic and intimate partner violence.

At the beginning of October, Hughes and Earles joined other domestic violence community advocates and community agency supporters as they collectively launched Domestic Violence Awareness Month in the Tri-county, at the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital. The event encouraged participants to discuss the state of domestic violence in the community as well as participate in planned activities and share resources for men, women and families who are experiencing abuse.

Representatives from My Sister’s House; the MUSC Advocacy Program; S.C. Legal Services; City of Charleston 9th Circuit Solicitor’s Office; MUSC National Crime Victims Center’s Training, Resilience and Recovery Program; Charleston County Public Library; and the City of Hanahan each spoke about the importance of recognizing and educating the public about domestic violence in the community. Several shared results from a first-of-its-kind assessment about domestic violence in the Lowcountry at a town hall and during public awareness activities and events.

My Sister's House's Tosha Connors shares details from a recent Domestic Violence Impact Assessment at the event. (Photo by Sarah Pack) 
My Sister’s House CEO Tosha Connors speaks at the press conference co-sponsored by MUSC and My Sister’s House held for Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Tosha Connors, CEO at My Sister’s House, a nonprofit, full-service domestic violence agency serving the Tri-county, reported that in the organization’s 2023 Lowcountry Domestic Violence Impact Assessment 6% of Tri-county residents believed that domestic violence is a serious, life-threatening issue in the community, and that 58% of Lowcountry adults have experienced some form of domestic violence.

“The survey results I’ve reported are alarming, and we need to pay attention to this. We do our work every day because it’s our mission to serve the community. But what can the public do to help? We need others to speak up and stand up against domestic violence by serving as ambassadors. Help us change the tide about domestic violence in the community,” said Connors.

City of Hanahan Mayor Christy Rainwater returned for the second consecutive year to promote awareness in the Tri-county and is a proponent of collaboration among communities to solve problems. In early October, Mayor Connors and Hanahan City Council members signed a resolution recognizing October as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month among its residents. The city’s campaign highlighted local resources and phone numbers for anyone experiencing abuse.

“One thing that resonates today about domestic violence is that victims are not alone. There is a team of professionals that are trained in a variety of areas to stand beside and help you if you’re ever facing such difficult moments. October is an excellent opportunity for each of us to learn more about domestic violence and, more importantly, tell someone if you are ever in that situation. Know that you’re never alone,” said Rainwater. 

For information about domestic violence, check out the MUSC Advocacy Program, the Coalition Against Domestic Violence or the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.