COLUMBIA — Four years ago, Sandra Dayse was severely beaten by a man she loved. On Tuesday, she told an audience gathered to honor victims of domestic violence that escaping that situation has given her a new lease on life.
“I learned the hard way that domestic violence does not discriminate,” Dayse told a crowd of several hundred gathered at the Statehouse in Columbia. “There were red flags that rose ... but I chose to ignore them.”
Dayse shared her story as part of this year’s Silent Witness Domestic Violence ceremony. The annual event, hosted by Attorney General Alan Wilson, honors the South Carolina men and women killed because of domestic violence the year before.
On Tuesday, Wilson read the names and stories of 39 women and nine men killed by their partners last year. A bell tolled for each person, and life-size silhouettes representing each victim were held up.
The event, part of national Domestic Violence Awareness Month, comes on the heels of a report issued last week by the Violence Policy Center in Washington showed that South Carolina ranks first in the country in the rate of women killed by men.
The rate of 2.54 per 100,000 was more than double the national average, according to the report. South Carolina has ranked in the top 10 states every year for the past decade.
Living in Charlotte, N.C., in 2002, Dayse met a man she initially described as “very charming and smooth.” But as the couple moved in together and eventually married, Dayse said her mate became increasingly jealous, irrational and, eventually, verbally and physically abusive toward her.
“I had to always walk on eggshells because I never knew what would tick him off,” she said.
By 2009, the couple had two children together, and Dayse said she knew she needed to find a way out of the relationship. One January day, as she recuperated from gallbladder surgery, Dayse said her husband beat her with a baseball bat and dragged her downstairs and outside their home. Her surgical stitches burst. Her children looked on in horror.
“I felt numb,” she said. “I saw a living, breathing monster.”
Neighbors came to Dayse’s rescue and called 911, caring for her children as she healed. Her husband was eventually found not guilty on assault charges, but Dayse said she fled with her children to a Columbia shelter and is forging a new existence.
“I escaped the nightmare that was him,” she said. “I am very excited about my new life.”