- Victim Rights
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These FAQs are intended to provide general information about the services that SCVAN can provide regarding the criminal justice process and other legal issues that can affect victims. This information is not intended as legal advice. If you have questions about a specific legal matter, contact an attorney.
A safety planning guide for victims is a resource that provides practical strategies and advice to help individuals protect themselves and plan for their safety. It includes information on creating a personalized safety plan, accessing support services, and understanding legal options. We have developed a safety guide that you can download here.
The victim should immediately contact law enforcement. There are legal protections in place for victims of crime, and a victim should not have to face harassment or retaliation. The victim should keep any text messages, voicemails, call logs, social media posts or messages, or any other evidence proving that the offender contacted the victim. Any witnesses to the contact should also give a statement to law enforcement.
The Family Court Clerk of Court has simplified petition forms which you can fill out and file at their office. If you have an attorney, he or she can help you file a Petition for an Order of Protection. After the Petition has been filed, the Clerk of Court will schedule a hearing in Family Court. The Clerk of Court will notify you about the date and time of the hearing and Law Enforcement typically serves the abuser with the filing and hearing notice. At the hearing, each of you will have the opportunity to present your case to the judge.
In general, crime victims do not need legal representation at Order of Protection hearings because the hearings are designed for unrepresented persons. However, both parties have a legal right to an attorney. We strongly recommend that you have an attorney represent you at an Order of Protection hearing.
A victim of stalking or harassment can petition for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) through the Magistrate’s Court. This temporary order lasts for up to one year. To file a petition for an TRO, a victim can visit the Magistrate’s Court Clerk where the proper forms will be available.
Victims of violent crimes, parents of minor victims, and witnesses of violent crimes can qualify for Permanent Restraining Orders (PROs) when the perpetrator has (1) committed a qualifying crime and (2) the complainant suffered direct or threatened physical, emotional, or financial harm as a result of the crime. A PRO is issued by the Circuit Court or Family Court and protects persons from abuse, threats, violent acts, and harassment by the perpetrator for length of time determined by the court, up to a lifetime.
Learn more on how to register here.
Unfortunately, South Carolina does not have an address confidentiality program. There was a bill introduced in 2017 to create such a program, but it did not pass. However, there are other ways you can protect your address, such as switching to a P.O. box, deleting your address from “people search” websites by contacting the website’s administrators, and submitting a google removal request.
Steps for Domestic Violence Safety Plan Before Separation
Select two close friends or family members you can stay with in the event of an emergency and develop an emergency plan with them. Build up a cash reserve and store the money in a place where the Perpetrator is unlikely to look. Determine what property and debt you share with the Perpetrator. Open a personal bank account and transfer your money to it, including paychecks. If you don’t have a job, seek training and update your resume. For more information on how to do this, visit S.C. Works. Change passwords on all electronic accounts, including email and social media. Disable location services on devices and apps, including Snapchat and Find My. Remember that a Perpetrator who shares your cell phone account may access your billing records, including lists of calls and texts.
Steps for Domestic Violence Safety Plan Before Separation
Immediately change all computer and online account passwords. Install security features in your home. If the perpetrator has ever had a key to your home, change the locks on all doors. Tell neighbors that the perpetrator does not live in your home and ask them to call the Police if they see the perpetrator nearby. Protect personal information including address, employer, and children’s schools. Notify the children’s schools or daycare about the situation. Change your routine: shop, bank, and conduct business at places you did not visit with the perpetrator. Keep diaries, journals, personal letters, and calendars in a safe place outside of the home. If you have a restraining order, keep copies in several places, including your vehicle, handbag, and house. Give copies to close family and friends. Keep money, a spare set of keys, and a “go bag” somewhere safe or at a trusted friend or family member’s house, in case you need to leave quickly. Select a close friend or family member you can stay with in the event of an emergency. Avoid contact from the perpetrator, screen telephone calls, and avoid opening mail without a return address.
These are recommended safety planning steps. These recommendations may not apply in all situations. Contact SCVAN’s Legal Department for information on restraining orders. 911:
If there is an emergency where you or a member of your household is in immediate danger, call 911. Use a landline if possible, as it will provide an address to dispatchers even if you are not able to speak. Emergency Contact: Select two close friends or family members to act as emergency contacts who you can stay with in the event of an emergency and develop an emergency plan with them. This plan should include a safe method of communication in case of emergency, as well as a safe meeting place. Code Words: Establish a “code word” you can text to your emergency contacts if you need assistance leaving your abuser. This could be an emoji you never use, or it could be a brief phrase like “You up?” or “Is it raining over there?” Save Money: Start saving money. If you go to the store to buy essential items, purchase gift cards that you can keep in a safe place in case of emergency. Safeguard Phone: Regularly clear your Internet browser history, and if possible, keep your phone locked and protected by fingerprint or facial recognition scanning.
Limit emails, texts, and social media that you would not want the perpetrator to have access to – remember, all written communication can be preserved by the viewer. Do not accept friend requests from people you do not know well and remove followers that you do not know personally. If someone makes a dangerous or threatening post on any form of social media, including Snapchat, take a screenshot and go to law enforcement. Check privacy settings on apps and social media to make sure that your location is not public. Keep personal information private. Do not make public posts about occupation, school, or relationship status. When posting pictures or videos online, be mindful of landmarks, school logos, and other information that may be unintentionally shared in the picture’s background. Immediately change all passwords, including social media, bank accounts, online shopping websites, and your cell phone. Never share passwords with anyone (including family members, close friends, or significant others). Use private browsing mode when using the internet from your phone or computer. Routinely remove cookies and clear browsing history. Change passwords frequently.
There are many different crimes that contain elements of rape or sexual assault in SC: Criminal Sexual Conduct – 1st Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct – 2nd Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct – 3rd Degree Assault & Battery – 1st Degree Assault & Battery – 2nd Degree Assault with Intent to Commit Criminal Sexual Conduct Spousal Sexual Battery
For a Criminal Charge: South Carolina does not have a statute of limitations for sexual assault for a criminal charge. This means that a sexual assault can still be reported years after it is committed. However, as with most crimes, the closer in time to the offense that the offense is reported, the more likely the chance of a successful investigation and prosecution of the offense in general. Law enforcement is better able to collect available evidence shortly after the offense. For a Civil Lawsuit: An action to recover damages for injury to a person arising out of an act of sexual abuse or incest must be commenced within six years after the person becomes twenty-one years of age or within three years from the time of discovery by the person of the injury and the causal relationship between the injury and the sexual abuse or incest, whichever occurs later. SC Code Section 15-3-555 (A). For Title IX: Until the offender graduates/is no longer a student at the institution for a Title IX Complaint
Absolutely! Criminal offenses are not limited to non-intimate partner sexual assault, or stranger or acquaintance sexual assault. A victim can be sexually assaulted by a spouse or someone he or she is dating or has dated.
South Carolina does recognize sexual assault between spouses. The law in South Carolina is called Spousal Sexual Battery. However, this is the one sexual assault law in South Carolina that does require the offense to be reported within a certain amount of time – if the spouses are living together and not estranged, then the sexual assault must be reported to law enforcement within thirty (30) days of the offense. In addition to this timeline requirement, the law requires that the offender must have accomplished the sexual battery through use of aggravated force. This means the offender either used or threatened the use of a weapon, or used or threatened the use of physical force or physical violence of a high and aggravated nature. Further, this law between spouses only applies to a “sexual battery.” Inappropriate touching or groping, absent some type of penetration, would not qualify as an offense under this particular law.
There are several options: Call 911, Call the non-emergency line, Walk-in at police agency, Ask medical personnel to contact law enforcement, Ask a community-based advocate to contact law enforcement.
Yes, for a criminal charge to be brought, evidence will be needed. However, the victim’s statement to law enforcement of what occurred is considered evidence. So the victim’s statement is one piece of evidence that will be considered in determining whether there is enough evidence, or probable cause, for law enforcement to make an arrest of the offender. The victim’s statement could be compelling enough for an arrest. However, if there is other evidence available as well, this addition of what we call corroborating evidence will make a stronger case for prosecution of the offense. Evidence can be found in the form of photographs of injuries of the victim, clothing that she was wearing during the sexual assault, texts messages and voicemails from the offender, social media posts or messages by the offender or other people, medical treatment (records) the victim received, photographs of the location where the sexual assault occurred or actual items at the scene of the sexual assault, just to name a few…there are many pieces of evidence that can prove helpful. In addition, law enforcement needs to be made aware of anyone who may have witnessed the sexual assault – this is not limited to anyone who may have witnessed the act, but also anyone the victim came into contact with immediately after, or even before, the offense. These indirect witnesses could potentially give information regarding the victim’s distressed demeanor after the sexual assault, whether the victim was in a state to be able to give consent, and/or any statements she made to them about being sexually assaulted.
Absolutely! Some victims aren’t sure if they want to go forward with a criminal investigation, but they want to make sure the evidence is available if they decide to report the sexual assault to police. A victim of sexual assault can undergo a Sexual Assault Forensic Examination, or what is frequently called a CSC Kit or Rape Kit, and ask that the kit remain anonymous. Hospitals are required to hold the kit for one year, for the victim to decide how he or she wants to proceed. While one major benefit of the Sexual Assault Forensic Examination is the collection of evidence, another very important part of the examination is the treatment and health component for the victim. A Sexual Assault Forensic Examination includes medicine for the victim to help prevent sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy as a result of the sexual assault.
No. However, if the victim suffered any injuries from the sexual assault or had a Sexual Assault Forensic Examination performed, this information can be important evidence…that “corroborating evidence”…again, the importance of medical treatment.
In addition to the criminal action, a victim may sue the perpetrator in civil court for compensatory damages to make them whole. Compensatory damages can go beyond pecuniary or money losses and include payment for such intangible harms like pain and suffering, humiliation, and damage to reputation.
It depends. Fill out an online intake or call us at (803) 509-6552 to complete one over the phone.
It depends. Fill out an online intake or call us at (803) 509-6552 to complete one over the phone.
Yes and no. South Carolina workers are usually “employees at will.” This means that, unless there is an employment contract, they can be fired at anytime for any reason, provided it is not an illegal reason. Some companies have an employee handbook which will spell out the rights of an employee at that particular workplace. Illegal reasons that are grounds for a civil lawsuit include discrimination or harassment based on race, sex, color, national origin, religion, age, disability, or veteran status. There are several laws prohibiting unfair treatment in the workplace. If you believe you are the victim of workplace discrimination or harassment, contact an attorney.
South Carolina recognizes the following grounds for at-fault divorce: (1) Adultery,(2) Habitual Drunkenness or Drug Use, (3) Physical Cruelty, and (4) Desertion*. *This is hardly ever used because the requirements are the same as a 365 day divorce.
The thing to remember before you file on one of the above grounds is this: you have to be able to PROVE the fault. You have to have clear evidence. Witnesses, pictures, medical records, audio recordings, and other evidence are REQUIRED to proceed with an At Fault Divorce. If you cannot prove one of these grounds, you will need to file under the traditional divorce ground; the 1 year separation divorce.
The At Fault Divorce path moves quicker than usual divorce proceedings, and sometimes is called a “90 day divorce” (although it should be noted that almost nothing in the COVID-era of the court system moves within 90 days). BUT, it should be noted that in this scenario, there is a wrong-doer, which can create a more contentious court environment.
If you do not qualify for a fault-based divorce as described above, you will have to file for a divorce based on 1 year separation. This means the spouses must live apart for 365 days in order to have a final divorce. This means that the parties may NOT live in the same home, nor engage in sexual intercourse.
Each time you “reconcile,” with your spouse, the time required for separation begins again. What does that mean? Did your partner move back for a couple days while you tried to work it out? That starts the clock over. Did you have sex over the weekend despite living apart? That could start the clock over.
If your situation is tumultuous, and you feel you need rules in place while you wait for your 1 year countdown to run, consider filing for separate support and maintenance. In this scenario, you have a temporary hearing (extra $25 fee applies) and the Judge will give you an Order setting forth rules for both parties to follow. While this is not a “divorce” filing, it can be converted into a divorce at the final hearing stage. We highly recommend you consult with an attorney if you want to pursue this option.
If you’ve already lived apart for 1 year, the process will move faster for you, as you don’t have to wait.
You must file a divorce packet including the following papers, which can be found at www.sccourts.org: Family Court Cover Sheet Summons Complaint
Financial Declaration (even if you’re not asking for money, and even if you don’t have much money)
You will need: 3 copies of the divorce packet and a money order in the amount of $150. Take these items to the FAMILY COURT CLERK OF COURT for your county. They will keep one copy (the original) for the judge. They will give you 2 copies back — one is for you, and the other is to give to your spouse.
Your spouse must be notified that you have filed for divorce. The divorce papers must be hand-delivered to them by someone else. You will need a process server to do this. You can find a process server through a basic internet search. They usually charge between $30-$60. They will give you back a signed paper saying that they served your partner. DO NOT LOSE THIS PAPER. Take the paper to the Clerk and have them file it with your other documents. It will cost no money to file this with the Clerk. You cannot move forward with your case if your partner has not been served with the divorce packet. If you are having issues serving your partner, consult an attorney.
Find a full guide here.
Unless you have a signed agreement, you must complete mediation. You and your partner must agree on a certified family court mediator in your area. Certified mediators are usually attorneys or retired judges. They charge by the hour for their services, and you will be required to pay for half. Lawyers and judges are great mediators but are costly. Some mediation centers around the state offer low cost or sliding scale mediations.
What to Expect During Mediation You will be in a separate room from the other party and will not have to speak directly to them at any point; Mediations last between 2 – 4 hours; You will receive paperwork at the end: either a signed agreement or a statement of participation; The paperwork you receive from the mediator must be shown to the judge at your Final Hearing.
In order to request this hearing, one of the parties (usually the one who started the case) files a Motion for Temporary Relief. There is an extra filing fee of $25. This is an optional hearing that can occur after filing and before mediation. At this hearing, the judge will temporarily decide on any contested issues between the parties, such as property and child custody. The Temporary Order from this hearing stays in place until the Final Hearing. It does not necessarily reflect what the final order may be.
Find a full guide here.
There are law enforcement officers throughout every court building. Each courtroom will have its own officer present. There will be a waiting area or waiting rooms near the courtrooms. If you are worried about being in the same waiting area as the opposing party, you can notify the bailiff and they can help you find another location where you can safely wait. In the hearing, you will be expected to be in the same room as the opposing party, but you will be sitting on opposite sides of the room and the bailiff will be present. If you need an escort to your vehicle after the hearing, let a bailiff or officer know prior to exiting the courtroom.
Yes, a pending criminal case could affect the judge’s decisions regarding restraints and custody as part of a Temporary Order. Many victims of domestic violence may be seeking a divorce while also navigating the criminal process. These processes are separate but related. For example, the information that is shared in the divorce case could be subject to use in the criminal case. If you have privacy concerns, or if you need assistance navigating the criminal process, please fill out our online intake form. We specialize in enforcing victims’ rights throughout the criminal process.
There are various immigration benefits available for non citizen crime victims, including T visas for victims of human trafficking, VAWA for victims of domestic violence, SIJ for child victims under 21 years of age, U visas for victims of qualifying crimes, and Asylum for victim of persecution.
T nonimmigrant status is a temporary immigration benefit that enables certain victims of a severe form of trafficking in persons) to remain in the United States for an initial period of up to 4 years if they have complied with any reasonable request for assistance from law enforcement in the detection, investigation, or prosecution of human trafficking or qualify for an exemption or exception. T nonimmigrant status is also available to certain qualifying family members of trafficking victims. T nonimmigrants are eligible for employment authorization and certain federal and state benefits and services. T nonimmigrants who qualify may also be able to adjust their status and become lawful permanent residents (obtain a Green Card). Learn more here.
The U nonimmigrant status (U visa) is set aside for victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse and are helpful to law enforcement or government officials in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity.
The limit on the number of U visas that may be granted to principal petitioners each year is 10,000. However, there is no cap for family members deriving status from the principal applicant, such as spouses, children, or other eligible family members.
If the cap is reached before all U nonimmigrant petitions have been adjudicated, USCIS will create a waiting list for any eligible principal or derivative petitioners that are awaiting a final decision and a U visa. Petitioners placed on the waiting list will be granted deferred action or parole and are eligible to apply for work authorization while waiting for additional U visas to become available.
Once additional visas become available, petitioners on the waiting list and those who have received a bona fide determination will receive their visa in the order in which their petition was received. Petitioners do not have to take any additional steps to request the U visa. USCIS will notify the petitioner of the approval and the accompanying U visa. Learn more here.
A U certification (Also known as Form I-918 Supplement B) is a required supplemental document when applying for a U visa. Certifying officials, such as the heads of police departments, sheriff’s offices, solicitor’s offices, and judges may sign this form verifying that the victim was, is, or is likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the qualifying criminal activity. Signing a U certification does not guarantee approval of a U visa. It simply allows the victim to apply for one. Due to the processing delays with U visas, SCVAN Legal is only assisting victims in obtaining U certifications at this time.
Under the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), you may be eligible to become a lawful permanent resident (get a Green Card) if you are the victim of battery or extreme cruelty committed by: A U.S. citizen spouse or former spouse; A U.S. citizen parent; A U.S. citizen son or daughter; A lawful permanent resident (LPR) spouse or former spouse; or An LPR parent.
You may self-petition under VAWA by filing a Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant (Form I-360) without your abusive family member’s knowledge or consent. A person who files a VAWA self-petition is generally known as a VAWA self-petitioner. If your self-petition is approved and you meet other eligibility requirements, you may be eligible to apply to become a lawful permanent resident. Learn more here.
There are several kinds of restraining orders: Emergency, Temporary, and Permanent Restraining Orders and Orders of Protection. Each varies in length. Emergency Orders last up to 14 days, Temporary Restraining Orders and Orders of Protection can last up to one year, and Permanent Restraining Orders can last for a lifetime.
An Order of Protection (OOP) is a Family Court order that protects a victim from domestic abuse by a spouse, a former spouse, former cohabiting romantic partner, cohabitating romantic partner, or person with whom they have a child in common. It provides temporary protection from abuse, threats of abuse, stalking, or harassment. When appropriate, it can be tailored to each person’s circumstances to include provisions for such things as temporary custody and financial support, possession of the residence (when the parties are married), and even care of pets.
Yes and no. The Circuit Solicitor’s Office represents all citizens, not just crime victims. Their goal is to seek justice and preserve the peace, safety, and dignity of all citizens. Sometimes crime victims’ interests differ from those of the Solicitor, and crime victims have a legal right to seek their own attorney.
SCVAN provides direct legal representation for victims of crime. This advocacy happens inside and outside of the courtroom. SCVAN attorneys assist victims during the criminal process by providing information about their rights and protecting those rights in court. In addition to victims’ rights enforcement, we take a holistic approach to legal representation and can assist and represent victims in a variety of situations including restraining orders, immigration, simple divorce, employment law, and Title IX hearings.
SCVAN operates statewide. We have offices in Columbia and Spartanburg, but our legal staff travels across South Carolina to meet with and represent victims of violent crime. Through our Reaching Rural Program, we have six remote Victim Rights Centers in the following Lowcountry counties: Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Colleton, Hampton, and Jasper. At these centers, crime victims have access to a computer, printer, scanner, and office supplies. Additionally, we offer secure videoconferencing that allows them to have face-to-face meetings with attorneys. Victims can also use our videoconferencing platform from their smartphone, tablet, or other personal device to receive legal services.
If you know someone who could benefit from our services, refer them to our intake line (803) 509-6552 or our online intake form.
If you are in immediate danger, please call 911. If you are currently experiencing domestic violence and need help getting to safety, we strongly recommend calling the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
ONLY Victim Service Providers can request these funds from the Emergency Fund on behalf of a South Carolina crime victim. See our Emergency Fund page for more details.
It is always important to speak with your attorney about any concerns that you have. If you believe that your victims’ rights have been violated, and you have already discussed these concerns with your attorney, you may complete an online intake and our team will be happy to counsel you about your rights and how they can be enforced.
Reach out to your victim advocate at the police department or the Solicitor’s Office. If you believe that your rights are being violated, please complete an online intake or call us.
Reach out to your victim advocate at the Solicitor’s Office for clarification and guidance.
Call your local law enforcement office or go to your nearest police station and ask to file a report. If there is an emergency, call 911.
Yes, crime victims can be represented by attorneys and accompanied by victim advocates and supportive family and friends.
(A)To preserve and protect victims’ rights to justice and due process regardless of race, sex, age, religion, or economic status, victims of crime have the right to:
(1) be treated with fairness, respect, and dignity, and to be free from intimidation, harassment, or abuse, throughout the criminal and juvenile justice process, and informed of the victim’s constitutional rights, provided by statute;
(2) be reasonably informed when the accused or convicted person is arrested, released from custody, or has escaped;
(3) be informed of and present at any criminal proceedings which are dispositive of the charges where the defendant has the right to be present;
(4) be reasonably informed of and be allowed to submit either a written or oral statement at all hearings affecting bond or bail;
(5) be heard at any proceeding involving a post‑arrest release decision, a plea, or sentencing;
(6) be reasonably protected from the accused or persons acting on his behalf throughout the criminal justice process;
(7) confer with the prosecution, after the crime against the victim has been charged, before the trial or before any disposition and informed of the disposition;
(8) have reasonable access after the conclusion of the criminal investigation to all documents relating to the crime against the victim before trial;
(9) receive prompt and full restitution from the person or persons convicted of the criminal conduct that caused the victim’s loss or injury, including both adult and juvenile offenders;
(10) be informed of any proceeding when any post‑conviction action is being considered, and be present at any post‑conviction hearing involving a post‑conviction release decision;
(11) a reasonable disposition and prompt and final conclusion of the case;
(12) have all rules governing criminal procedure and the admissibility of evidence in all criminal proceedings protect victims’ rights and have these rules subject to amendment or repeal by the legislature to ensure protection of these rights.
A Victim Advocate (VA) is a person who advocates for victims of crime inside and outside of the courtroom. They do not legally “represent” victims in the sense that attorneys do but play a very important role in a victim’s journey through the criminal justice system. Victim Advocates can assist victims with completing and submitting paperwork and impact statements for court hearings and can act as a liaison to notify victims of hearing dates and times. There are Victim Advocate positions associated with government organizations or community organizations. South Carolina law requires that police departments have Law Enforcement Victim Advocates (LEVAs) on staff to work with victims after a crime has been reported. The Solicitor’s Office Victim Advocate will advocate for crime victims if and when the case is given to the Solicitor. The Department of Probation, Pardon, and Parole and the Department of Corrections have their own VAs who work with crime victims. In addition to statutorily-mandated VAs, nonprofits may have their own VAs who can guide crime victims through the criminal justice process.
To request a free copy of the incident report from your case, contact the law enforcement entity investigating the case.
Restitution is financial compensation that a criminal defendant may be required to pay to crime victims for property damage, medical expenses, funeral expenses, and other out-of-pocket expenses.
Under South Carolina law, Section 17-25-322, after a perpetrator is convicted, the court must hold a hearing to determine the amount of restitution owed the victim.
Yes. They are two different processes. A victim can seek restitution as part of the criminal action and, at the same time, sue the perpetrator in civil court for compensatory damages. A victim may also complete an application with the Department of Crime Victim Compensation for some expenses, including medical costs.
Under South Carolina law, a victim is a person who is harmed as a result of a crime. When the victim is a minor under the age of 18 or otherwise incapacitated, the parents or legal guardians are also considered victims. When a crime results in death, the direct family members of the person who is killed are also considered victims. A perpetrator is not a victim. See S.C. Constitution Art. I § 24(c)(2).