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State Budget Cuts Further Threaten Louisiana's At-risk Families
by Debra Faircloth
A 76-year-old woman is shot and killed by her 74-year-old boyfriend. When he calls local law enforcement to turn himself in, he says, "I put her in the ground."
A 35-year-old mother of teenagers arrives at her new place of employment to work the breakfast shift. As she exits her car, her estranged husband rams her driver's side door severing her leg. He strolls from his rented vehicle and shoots her in the head while she lies grievously wounded on the pavement. Then, he goes back to his rented vehicle and shoots himself.
A young mother drives a carload of her friends as well as her 6-year-old son through the Louisiana countryside. Her abuser hunts her down on a rural back road. When he finds the carload of sightseers, he runs the vehicle off the road. He walks over to their car and shoots his ex-partner three times--once in the head, once in the chest, and once in the shoulder. Then he spots her son cowering in the back seat, a boy he considers his step-son, a boy now spattered with his mother's blood, and says, "Sorry, boy, that was just something I had to do!" Like a character in an old western, the murderer climbs into his truck and drives away.
These vignettes are not plot summaries from last night's Law & Order reruns. They are all-too-real tragedies which have happened right here in our state, in Louisiana. The grief and horror of these crimes will haunt the nights and days of the survivors for the rest of their lives.
These homicides are just four of the scores of family violence fatalities which blight Louisiana each and every year. Since the late 1990s, Louisiana has always ranked in the top five most lethal states for women and children. This year, according to the most recent tally of the Violence Policy Center in Washington, DC, Louisiana ranks fourth in the nation in the rate in which men kill women they say they love. Louisiana most often hovers between second and third place, but the state has been first at least twice in the past decade.
Louisiana's domestic violence workers have frequently expressed relief when the state dropped from first to lower numbers, but those feelings of accomplishment are ill-founded. The difference between first place and fifth is the difference of just a few deaths, and our family violence death rate is already way too high. Upon her appointment as executive director of LCADV (Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence), Beth Meeks expressed her horror at our consistently high fatalities: "Where is the outrage?"
Why is Louisiana's homicide rate so high? Why does Louisiana always rank in the top five most lethal states for women and children? Someday, sociologists and criminologists may have nice, neat answers for these questions. Until then, Louisiana residents must cope with the ugly fact that while other states may come and go in the ratings, Louisiana always holds a top five slot.
Violence thrives in silence, and, more often than not, family violence infests generation after generation. It's not only the silence of the victims that propagates multi-generational family violence; it's the silence of good people who, through fear of giving offense or interfering in private matters, stand by and do nothing. Domestic violence is not a private matter--it's a crime!
We in Louisiana do not have to endure appalling domestic violence statistics year after year. We have at hand the means to create social change. We can speak out. We can tell our neighbors, friends, and relatives who live in fear every day that there's hope and help available. We can encourage them to reach out to law enforcement and the court's protection. And, finally, by supporting our state's 18 domestic violence agencies we can make sure that in every parish, rural or urban, there's highly trained professional staff ready and eager to assist when home is no longer a safe place to be.
Regrettably, state budget cuts threaten the ability of those 18 specialized agencies to provide no-cost, confidential shelter and safety planning to our state's at-risk families. To accommodate the budget cuts, many agencies have already reduced crucial staff. Support your friends and neighbors and take steps to keep them safe by speaking out against budget cuts. Without trained and competent front-line family violence workers, our state is likely to reclaim the number one fatality slot and keep it.
For more information about domestic violence in Louisiana, Google LCADV or call the state-wide crisis line at 1-888-411-1333 for referral to the family violence program nearest you. No Louisiana family should ever be afraid to go home.
Debra Faircloth, who has worked in the field of domestic violence for over twelve years, is currently DART's Grant Parish Rural Advocate. During her career, she has frequently qualified as an expert witness. She has also conducted numerous trainings on family violence at the local and state level. Her family violence column ran in the Ruston Daily Leader for four years.