Legislation to impose felony charges on individuals who torture children in South Carolina is essential to protecting children’s well-being and prosecuting child abuse and neglect cases, said a state senator who leads a committee that deals with family services.
A subcommittee approved a bill Thursday that defines child torture. A parent or guardian convicted of torturing a child would face 20 years to life in prison and someone who knowingly allowed another person to torture a child could serve 10 to 30 years in prison.
The legislation is the right thing to do to ensure the safety of children in South Carolina and solves a problem here in the state, said Sen. Katrina Shealy, chairwoman of the Senate Family and Veterans’ Services committee and author of the bill.
“The federal government has mandated that if we are going to prosecute for child torture, we need to have a definition here in South Carolina,” Shealy said. “We didn’t have a definition of child torture.”
The bill defines torture in part as a pattern of assaults, psychological mistreatment or ignoring care that causes severe physical, mental or emotional pain over a period of time. The abuse causes serious physical or psychological injury up to death, according to the bill.
South Carolina Commission on Prosecution Coordination Chairman Duffie Stone said it is important lawmakers ensure the language of the statute is simple and not overly complicated. Stone said complexity in statutes has created loopholes, making it difficult for prosecutors to try certain cases. He said he is working with Sen. Shealy to avoid that.
“We’re trying to avoid the pitfalls of complex definitions,” the 14th Judicial Circuit Solicitor said. “We’re trying to make sure it is as clear as possible.”
The definition is critical to helping social workers at the Department of Social Services determine which cases rise to torture, instead of other forms of child abuse, said Maggie Cash with the South Carolina Children’s Hospital Collaborative.
“If an allegation comes in for physical abuse, if the DSS case worker can’t distinguish whether or not that’s just physical abuse or torture, you’re potentially putting that child at greater risk,” Cash said.
Shealy said changes to the bill came after hearing from the public in meetings as well as talking to medical professionals, attorneys and child advocates.
“We have all the right people here telling us what we need to do. If they’re telling us this is the right thing to do, then we need to take care of our children,” the Republican from Lexington said.
The bill now goes to the Senate Family and Veterans’ Services committee that Shealy leads.
“We need to protect our children in South Carolina, and nobody worries about that more than I do,” Shealy said.