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Joseph F. Rice School of Law

USC report on protective orders highlights ways to address domestic violence

A new report by law and psychology faculty at the University of South Carolina uses data on every Order of Protection issued by South Carolina courts in 2019 to give insights about the breadth of domestic violence in SC. 

Released Monday, April 8, the report also highlights policy recommendations for making the process of obtaining a protective order more effective.   

What’s at stake 

South Carolina has been among the top 10 states with the highest rate of women murdered by men during 23 of the past 25 years, ranking number one on four occasions. In 2019, when this data was collected, South Carolina ranked sixth with 57 cases of femicide. 

Who’s who 

The project is a collaboration of Lisa Martin, associate professor of law and director of the Domestic Violence Clinic at the Joseph F. Rice School of Law, and Suzanne Swann, Ph.D., professor of psychology and women’s and gender studies in the College of Arts and Sciences. Their report provides a broad overview of the people involved in protection order cases, the abuse that brought them to court, and preliminary information on the outcome of these cases. 


According to Martin and Swan, this is not only the first study on Orders of Protection case files in South Carolina, it is the first study they know of in any state to examine all protection orders with population and geographical data for a full calendar year. Data at this scale offers statewide and county-level details of the people involved in these cases, the abuse that brings them to the courts, and how their cases fare. 

By the numbers 
  • Of the 3,451 Orders of Protection case files collected, 1,572 Orders of Protection were granted. 
  • 81 percent of petitioners report more than one type of abuse, including physical abuse (67 percent) and threats to kill or harm the petitioner (50 percent). 
  • Nearly half of parties report sharing children in common, most of whom are under 10 years old. 
  • In 75 percent of cases, neither party had legal representation. 
  • In 24 percent of cases the respondent used or had access to a weapon. 
  • The statewide average time from filing a case to entry of an Order of Protection was 14 days, with some protective orders being granted the same day and others being granted more than 100 days from filing. 
Looking ahead 

Based on their findings, Martin and Swan offered two preliminary recommendations.  

The first is to increase data accessibility by: 

  • Permitting researchers to study the South Carolina Department of Social Services Public Index to collect non-confidential data related to case filings, outcomes, and lawyer representation, 
  • Standardizing party information sheets statewide to collect demographic data, and 
  • Digitizing case files. 

The second is to expand protections under the Protection from Domestic Abuse Act by: 

  • Expanding qualifying relationships to include intimate partners who have not shared a residence, 
  • Expanding qualifying conduct to include stalking, and 
  • Establishing Temporary Orders of Protection. Martin and Swan note that South Carolina is the only state that does not offer temporary protective orders between the time of filing and the Order of Protection hearing. 

After piloting the project in Greenville, Martin, Swan, and student research assistants visited 45 of South Carolina’s 46 Family Courts to scan, redact, and code all cases filed in 2019.  

This report builds on South Carolina’s first Statewide Civil Legal Needs Assessment, unveiled last year, which was a collaboration of the South Carolina Bar, the Access to Justice Commission, and the Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough (NMRS) Center on Professionalism at the USC Rice School of Law. NMRS also sponsored the Orders of Protection report launch.  

What’s next 

This is the first of several reports Martin and Swan plan to release. Future reports will provide more detail about the existing case data and other aspects of these cases. 

What they’re saying 

“Understanding what is actually going on is critical to knowing how to take the first step, to help policymakers and victims deal with the problem,” says South Carolina Supreme Court Justice John C. Few ‘88, who also chairs the South Carolina Access to Justice Commission. “On behalf of the Access to Justice Commission, it’s our privilege to be able to share the results of this work.” 

Read the complete report.

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