A law whose time has come
Brian Bennett, an instructor at the SC Criminal Justice Academy, explained the importance of the SC legislature passing the propsed EA's Law at an event Monday in Clinton.
EA's Law would be added to the state's criminal domestic violence statutes, strengthened in 2015 when SC was #1 in the nation in the rate of men killing women. SC now is ranked 5th in that category of crime. Bennett said EA's Law takes a necessary next step - making strangulation and suffocation a felony, elevated from its current status of misdemeanor. Bennett said any strangulation is a "lethal event" - there's are only two outcomes, life or death. If strangulation is not immediately fatal, it can be fatal hours or days later, often without outward visible signs.
"The act itself is a lethal act," said Bennett, who has spent several years studying strangulation used in domestic violence, against children and in abusing vulernable adults. "If a person is willing to harm an intimate partner, he is more likely to kill family, children, pets and members of law enforcement."
The new strangulation/suffocation law - if passed by the SC General Assembly, with the sponsorship of State Sen. Katrina Shealy of Lexington - would be named EA's Law, in honor of Emily Anna Asbill, 19, of Clinton, who was strangled by her boyfriend, Michael Beaty, also of Clinton, in late June, 2013. Beaty is serving a life sentence, and has an appeal hearing set for Oct. 19 before the SC Supreme Court. EA's mother, Emily Joy, founded the EA's Love of Life Foundation, sponsor of Monday's 2nd Annual Remembrance event at Sonic in Clinton. She and Laurens law enforcement officer Michael Polson who co-wrote the strangulation bill with Bennett are lobbying the General Assembly to get the bill passed.
Polson said a goal is to get 100,000 signatures on a support petition by the end of the year. The petition is available for signature on Change.org and on Facebook. Joy recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to discuss the bill with SC Congressmen and officials of national domestic violence organizations. Polson said a strangulation law passed in New Hamsphire making the act a felony sets 3 1/2 to 7 years in prison as the prison sentence for a person convicted. He said, "You give me 3 1/2 years with a woman (away from the person who strangled her) and she will never see her abuser again."
Polson said before New Hampshire passed the strangulation law, a young woman survived a strangulation and her boyfriend was charged with a misdemeanor - 3 days later, he was released on bond, returned and shot the woman and himself to death. Bennett said it is typical that abusers use strangulation to gain control, then finish the lethal domestic violence act with the gun, and Polson said that felony level "cooling off period" to keep the abuser separated from the victim is essential in giving a woman (and in some cases, a man) time to make an informed decision about leaving a domestic violence situation.
Speaking in support of EA's Law and the petition, Bennett said, "The people of South Carolina need us. They need you."