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The Catalyst

Murder-suicides show need for task force

By Helen Adams
Public Relations

Connie Best, Ph.D., wishes her expertise in domestic violence wasn’t so badly needed right now. But as the events of the past few days show, domestic violence continues to be a deadly problem in South Carolina.  

“It hasn’t stopped,” Best said. “If anything, it seems to be getting worse.”

Last Thursday, a professor at the University of South Carolina was shot and killed by his ex-wife who then killed herself. Sunday, a man on Wadmalaw Island killed his on-and-off-again girlfriend and her mother, then shot himself.

Dr. Connie Best is a nationally-known crime psychology expert who works in the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.  photo by Helen Adams, Public Relations

Best has seen a lot of lives torn apart by domestic violence. She’s a nationally known crime psychology expert who teaches in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Services at MUSC and directs adult services at the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center. The center, founded in 1974, is involved in scientific research, evidence-based treatment, professional education and consultation.

Best’s experience and knowledge were recently recognized by Governor Nikki Haley, who approved a nomination from the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education to include Best on the state’s domestic violence task force. The task force will try to end what the governor called “generational cycles of domestic violence” in South Carolina.

While the state has the grim distinction of ranking second in the country for the rate of women murdered by men, the death of Professor Raja Fayad at USC shows men are victims too, Best said. So are children.

“We must get a handle on all the elements that contribute to domestic violence and have a better understanding of the ways to do prevention,” Best said.

The attorney general’s office has noted that more than 36,000 people report an incident of domestic violence across South Carolina each year. Experts say many other incidents go unreported.

“I hope the task force will be able to come up with really usable, viable strategies. Not just talk about domestic violence but do something about it,” Best said.

“Maybe if all the right players are at the table, we can make progress.”

The players on the task force come from organizations around the state. The team includes experts on education, the legal system, employment issues, the impact of violence on victims, housing and faith-based responses to domestic violence.

Best’s inclusion in that group is part of a larger effort that MUSC has undertaken to reduce domestic violence. The Charleston campus recently hosted a seminar on domestic violence that drew experts from across the country. It focused on how domestic violence can turn deadly, how health care professionals should respond when they see evidence of domestic violence and the impact it has on everything from children to national health care costs.

Best has been busy as well. The past recipient of the U.S. President’s Award for Outstanding Service to Victims of Crime has continued to play a role in making public policy, going beyond research and clinical work to make people safer.

Last year, Best served on a panel of just 14 people involved in updating the Clery Campus Crime Act, expanding it to include domestic violence, stalking and other elements in its crime categories. She was chosen for the U.S. Department of Education’s rulemaking team through a competitive nomination process. The Clery Act was named after a Lehigh University student who was raped and murdered in her dorm room in 1986. It requires colleges and universities to compile and disclose crime statistics, describe what they’re doing to prevent crime and spell out how they handle criminal accusations involving students as accusers and students as defendants.

Best said her background at MUSC gave her the range of knowledge needed to make changes to the act in ways that will stand up to legal scrutiny while ensuring students’ safety and rights are protected.

“I think we’re unique in this area because we do research, and we do clinical work and we do public policy at MUSC,” Best said.

Her new assignment will call upon that range of expertise as she joins colleagues from across the state in exploring the complex problem of domestic violence.

“We just had five people die in domestic violence incidents within days of each other. We have to make progress as a state,” she said. “We can’t let people continue to lose their lives to domestic violence.”

 

February 12, 2015

 

 
 
 

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