A Culture of Domestic Violence?

South Carolina’s House chamber, where Chris Corley will continue to serve after being re-elected

No sane person would deny that domestic abuse is heartbreaking. Why, then, do rational people allow a man accused of domestic violence to continue in public office?

A teacher accused of physically abusing a student—or anyone employed in public service, for that matter—would at the very least be placed on paid administrative leave until the matter is resolved. Not so with elected officials.

According to the Charleston Post and Courier, which won a Pulitzer Prize for its reporting on domestic violence, South Carolina state representative Chris Corley stands accused of first-degree domestic violence and pointing and presenting a firearm, charges which constitute felonies.

Corley posted $20,000 bail and was given the sole restriction of having no firearm in his possession and no contact with his wife. His two children appear not to be included in that restriction, according to news reports.

This will not surprise anyone who has worked with or been a victim of domestic violence. As an adult who spent time in counseling to come to terms with being held at gunpoint by my father and beaten with a belt until my skin bled, I am intimately familiar with this vicious cycle.

I am also well aware that many women refuse to provide the testimony in court that would see their abusers convicted of a crime. It may well be that Corley will be acquitted of these charges or perhaps not even be indicted.

But he is not due to appear in court until February 10. And what has been the response of state officials about what should happen in the interim? A spokeswoman for House Speaker Jay Lucas (R-Hartsville), said simply that the speaker is monitoring the case:

If and when an indictment is issued, the speaker will take the necessary action to comply with the law and maintain the dignity of the House of Representatives.

No one in South Carolina’s state government seems the least bit concerned that a man whose vote helped shape public policy on the response to domestic violence and on issues such as gun rights stands accused of threatening his family and himself with a gun.

Not one state official has publicly condemned Corley for his actions. State Republican Party Chair Jaime Harrison said, “Domestic violence is not something to politicize or take lightly.” Even the democratic representative from Corley’s district simply said, “I hate to see that happen to anybody and their family any time, especially during this season. I’m just heartbroken and disappointed.”

Sadly, South Carolina is not alone in its reaction to domestic abuse, though it does have the highest rate in the nation of women killed by men they know. Preventing domestic abuse is a complex problem, complicated by the fact that most abusers are themselves victims of physical violence at the hands of a parent.

This is not an issue that affects only the poor and uneducated. Corley holds a law degree, and yet his advanced education did not keep him from attacking his wife. Until we address our culture that sometimes implicitly condones abuse by turning a blind eye to it, we have thousands of children in this country who will grow up in homes where violence is the only norm they learn. When our leaders are allowed to engage in such behavior with impunity, the message to these children is clear.

Perhaps Corley will be indicted on February 10. That seems more likely now that the sheriff’s office has revealed that it may have dash cam footage of some of the incident. But after a year in which we’ve watched men behaving badly not only get away with it, but be rewarded for it, it’s hard to believe that an indictment is likely.

Chris Corley is yet another reminder of the double standard we hold for the men and women who seek and hold public office. He appeared on the campaign trail in South Carolina with Donald Trump, another male whose personal behavior should have disqualified him from any public office, much less the presidency.

Why were they voted into office in the first place? The answer can only be that we have created a culture in this country where a woman can see her reputation shredded by a single misstep and where a man can engage repeatedly in reprehensible behavior with few or no consequences.

Until we change that culture we stand little chance of making advances in the host of issues that face us. And that is an American tragedy.

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