The United States Department of Justice quietly changed the definition for domestic violence on its website.
The change gets rid of mental, verbal and financial abuses as defining terms and now focuses on only acts of physical violence– casting domestic violence as a much more criminal concern.
The old definition included multiple forms of abuse like physical, sexual, emotional, economic and psychological.
Now the DOJ says only harms that constitute felony or misdemeanor crimes can be called domestic violence.
Horry County is consistently ranked as one of the worst counties in South Carolina in terms of domestic violence cases.
Katrina Morrison is in the process of growing a domestic violence shelter in Horry County called Retreat with Dignity. When asked about the DOJ change, she expressed concern saying that domestic violence relationships rarely start out with physical violence or even violence that rises to the level of a crime.
“The financial abuse and mental abuse start it,” Morrison said. “When someone is in a domestic violence situation it’s usually a culmination of being isolated, which is part of mental abuse, and that’s how a victim loses control.”
Mental abuse no longer falls under the DOJ’s definition of domestic violence.
“Now to break this crime, you pretty much have to lay hands or be in a position to lay hands for it to be domestic violence,” Solicitor Jimmy Richardson said.
According to Richardson, the new DOJ definition is closer to South Carolina’s definition.
“Our law and the newer version of the Department of Justice’s law look a lot more strict and concise than before where it was pretty much wide open.”
Richardson said the change won’t really affect prosecution in Horry County nor the state. “In reality, the Department of Justice would never charge a domestic violence case anyway,” he said. “The vast majority, well over 99%, of these charges are brought in state court, and you know every state may be different.”
Morrison also said the new definition will not change the work she and other advocates do.
“If you’re being emotionally abused and you’re being held financially captive, those are both forms of abuse that we will accept no matter what the legislation says.”
According to the 2018 report released by the South Carolina Domestic Violence Advisory Committee, South Carolina is sixth worst in the nation for domestic violence homicides.
State lawmakers say more work needs to be done– including expanding domestic violence education in schools and communities and creating legislation to better protect survivors.