By Alan Wilson
On February 5, around 1:15 p.m., students at the University of South Carolina received a text message warning “SHOTS FIRED” — two words that would send chills and panic through the large campus that is home to nearly 32,000 students.
For a few hours, we all believed that USC had become the latest face of campus shootings.
Instead, we soon would learn, USC had become the latest site of an epidemic that usually spreads in obscurity, but is all too familiar in South Carolina: domestic violence.
USC professor Raja Fayad was shot to death in his office by his ex-wife, Sunghee Kwon, before she turned the gun on herself.
Just three and a half weeks prior, police had been called over a situation involving Fayad and Kwon. The couple had a clear history of violence, and Fayad had moved out of their shared home on Jan. 10.
As a society, we often imagine domestic violence in a stereotypical way, where a man beats his wife and uses power and/or money to control her throughout the relationship. This tragedy serves as a very real wake-up call that domestic violence can happen anywhere. Anyone can be a victim of domestic violence, regardless of gender, race or socioeconomic background.
Dr. Fayad was a well-respected professor. He was a successful cancer researcher who made significant progress in colon cancer research, and was an expert on Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. His death is a tragic loss for our community.
I started 2015 by addressing South Carolina’s domestic violence problem and the need for proper reform, and legislators are responding. Rep. Shannon Erickson and the members of the House domestic violence study committee have introduced H.3433. Sens. Larry Martin and Greg Hembree are spearheading S.3, which is being debated on the Senate floor.
I’ve spoken endlessly on the need for tougher penalties and zero tolerance for repeat offenders. However, we must also focus on education. We need better education for our law enforcement officials who are on the front lines of this battle. They need to have the appropriate tools to work with and identify victims, and should be equipped with the necessary skills to determine whether or not someone is in a life-threatening situation.
Just hours before the gun shots on February 5, I spoke to a group of faculty members on USC’s campus about the severity of domestic violence in South Carolina, and what we can do about it. My speech was a small part of the one-day regional summit hosted by USC and EverFi, a Washington-based education company. The purpose of the event was to encourage S.C. institutions to take a leadership role by implementing domestic-violence and sexual-assault awareness programs that can reach all incoming students at the start of each school year.
It’s a chilling thought that the same day we all gathered to discuss domestic-violence prevention and education, a life was cut short due to this tragic crime just a few blocks away. This reaffirms the need for more conversations like this about domestic violence.
We need to educate ourselves and our children. The conversation with our children cannot begin early enough. They need to understand that violence is never acceptable. There are appropriate ways to talk to your children, regardless of age, about what a relationship is and is not. A healthy, loving relationship never includes a partner using coercion, intimidation or physical violence to get his or her way.
My heart breaks knowing that in just a few months, I will read Dr. Fayad’s name out loud during our annual Silent Witness ceremony to honor the slain victims of domestic violence. It is my hope that the tragic death of Dr. Fayad inspires us all to do our part in this fight.
We must change the way we view this tragic crime, and we must accept that domestic violence is a real problem in South Carolina. We cannot sit idle any longer, and risk losing another life to this reckless crime.