Gala will celebrate work in fight against 'vicious cycle' of domestic violence

2011 First Annual Breaking the Silence Gala

By Natalie Caula

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) - Seventh. It's not a number to be proud of for South Carolinians. According to the Violence Policy Center, the Palmetto State ranks seventh in the nation for the number of women murdered by men. It's a staggering number that has members of Charleston County's community working together in an effort to diminish the harsh statistic.

More than 36,000 victims annually report a domestic violence incident to law enforcement agencies around the state. Over the past 13 years, an average of 33 women have been killed each year by their intimate partner, according to the S.C. attorney general's office.

The individuals and organizations working to prevent and bring awareness to domestic violence will be honored on Saturday at the 2nd Annual Breaking the Silence Gala, hosted by the Zonta Club of Charleston and Liza's Lifeline of South Carolina.

The night's events include awards to the following individuals for their achievement:

Liza's Lifeline Person of the Year: Assistant Solicitor Ellen Steinberg

Best Professional: My Sister's House's Elmire Raven

Best Volunteer: NCJW & CAAIV's Sarah Finkelstein

Best Advocate: Charleston County Sheriff's Office's Easter LaRoche.

Volunteer work

Sarah Finklestein is with the National Council of Jewish Women and will be recognized as Best Volunteer. Finklestein says in 2007 she and other volunteers researched and designed a poster that would help women identify that they themselves may be in an abusive relationship. It reads "Can you spot an abuser?" with ten questions listed. Answering "yes" to any of the questions would identify domestic violence.

Finklestein went on a mission to get the posters spread around the state. She attended conferences where she met educators and law enforcement officials. She got the posters distributed to schools and businesses, churches and the synagogue, "anywhere we could put them up," she said.

Since the poster's creation, the group has distributed 45,000 of them. It was paid for by the National Council for Jewish Women and a state grant received for $15,000.

Finklestein also started a group that met on a monthly basis called the Community Alliance of Interpersonal Violence, started in 2007. She says when she realized that the number-one crime in South Carolina is domestic violence she decided she would volunteer her time to make sure people understood the dark crime plaguing our state.

"Most people think its sexual violence or hitting. There's also economic and psychological. There's more to it than just being physical or a sexual thing," Finklestein said.

Changing the system

Under Scarlett Wilson, the Ninth Circuit Solicitor's Office has seen a major shift in the way the office handles criminal domestic violence cases in the last few years.

Five years ago, Ellen Steinberg was hired by the solicitor's office to fill a gap to solely prosecute criminal domestic violence cases. Before Steinberg arrived, deputies themselves had to prosecute the cases.

"It's been a tremendous change for the office," Steinberg said. "Prior to my position in the ninth circuit, they did not have a dedicated prosecutor for the CDV. With Scarlett Wilson, we've created a centralized court to hear those cases."

Wilson was thrilled to hear her assistant solicitor, Steinberg, was being recognized for her work.

"I'm grateful to Zonta and Liza's Lifeline for recognizing those who are devoted to stopping domestic violence. Because of the "blame the victim" mentality often associated with domestic violence, prosecutors and others who work so hard to stop the vicious cycle of abuse are rarely celebrated," Wilson said. "Ellen Steinberg has done a fantastic job of getting involved in these cases earlier and seeing that we have a consistent approach to holding abusers accountable."

Elmire Raven, awarded with Best Professional, has been working in the field of domestic violence for the last 23 years. She runs My Sister's House, a non-profit group that provides services including an emergency temporary shelter for women caught in abusive situations. Raven says she's happy other members of the community are working together to combat the disturbing trend.

"I think anytime we can collaborate and work together on an issue on domestic violence, a difference has been made and hopefully we can continue to work on the issues collaboratively," Raven said.

The Gala

Ryan Nelson will emcee the gala. The former television host says she's happy to be a part of the event for the second year in a row.

"Domestic violence is rampant in the state. We need to invest in the organizations that care for these women," Nelson said.

The event sponsors include Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy, Cruise Planners, Embassy Suites Hotels, Wedding Studio and The Harbour Club.

Tickets are $75 per person and include the cocktail hour, entertainment, sit-down dinner and award ceremony. Cocktail attire. To purchase tickets visit:

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