Domestic Violence: A Silent Nightmare Occurring in Every Community
Author: Yvette Smothers
Domestic Violence: A Silent Nightmare Occurring in Every Community
In its most egregious form, domestic violence reveals itself as murder, and the number of homicide rates tied to men killing women is staggering. Louisiana’s rate of women murdered by men remains 77% higher than the national average, according to a 2020 annual report by the Violence Policy Center called When Men Murder Women: An Analysis of Homicide Data. That places Louisiana 5th among every state in the nation in the number of domestic violence homicides.
A review of the report also showed that Black women were disproportionately victimized with Black women representing 34 (63%) of the 54 female homicide victims identified in 2018. Sixty-seven percent of the victims were killed with firearms. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) studies estimate that 33.4% of Louisiana women and 28.4% of Louisiana men experience intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner sexual violence and/or intimate partner stalking in their lifetimes.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, observed to chart progress in the movement, but just in the month of October, tragedy struck in Baton Rouge and the community witnessed a two-year old toddler, Azariah Christien Thomas, get killed in a domestic violence incident. The incident outraged Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul who said, “Somebody somewhere in that person’s inner circle knew something and they could have called law enforcement to prevent that shooting from happening.” According to the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence (LCADV), this is becoming all too familiar. In 2019, four children (ages 9, 10, 14, and 17) and one expectant mother were murdered because of three domestic violence incidents in Louisiana. From January-August 2020, one child (age 17) and two young adults under the age of 20 were murdered as a result of two domestic violence incidents in Louisiana.
A pattern of abusive and controlling behaviors, used as a tool to gain power and control over another person is generally what is referred to as “domestic violence.” It includes physical violence, but also coercion, verbal abuse, psychological abuse, sexual abuse, and even financial abuse. It often starts small, with controlling behavior, jealousy, or bouts of targeted anger. Then the violence grows – it escalates in frequency and severity. “Survivors share their stories with us, and we see common threads through those stories, but there is no “typical” abuser or victim. Some people have vastly different experiences’” said LCADV Executive Director Mariah Wineski
I asked Wineski how the pandemic fueled domestic violence. She lamented, “During this coronavirus pandemic, domestic violence survivors are more vulnerable to brutality by abusers. It is effective because it severs ties to family and friends who may notice a change in behavior or marks on the skin. It also makes the victim entirely dependent on their partner for physical and emotional needs. The pandemic has increased isolation. Survivors may feel trapped due to limited access to resources and little to no contact with their support systems. While some victims may have previously been able to go to work, church, or social events for relief from their abuse, the pandemic has made this more difficult, if not impossible.”
Wineski further stated, “Domestic violence including physical, sexual, and emotional abuse is a significant public health threat.” There may be long term mental health problems as well. Many survivors experience PTSD, anxiety, and depression. They also often experience medical ailments because of that trauma, from ulcers to auto-immune disorders caused by their mental trauma and broken bones to brain injuries as a result of their physical abuse. Emotional and psychological abuse is often more destructive than physical abuse, according to many survivors.”
The Louisiana Domestic Violence Prevention Commission (LDVPC), created by the legislature in 2014, reported that 52% of women and 17% of men experienced PTSD, anxiety, and depression in 2019. Also, women exposed to partner violence were more than 5 times as likely to attempt suicide according to the report.
In the 2019 annual report, the commission reviewed the impact of domestic violence on children, communities, and its impact on the economy. Here are their findings:
There are a host of negative issues that may arise in children who experience domestic violence in the home. For instance, physical health problems, behavior problems, emotional difficulties, and problems in school. The report went on to say that children who witness intimate partner violence are at greater risk for victimhood and perpetration as adults, i.e., a boy who sees his mother being abused is 10 times more likely to abuse his female partner as an adult. A girl who grows up in a home where her father abuses her mother is more than 6 times as likely to be sexually abused as a girl who grows up in a non-abusive home.
Several indicators in the community are present such as neighborhood poverty; high alcohol outlet density; community violence; diminished economic opportunities/high unemployment rates; and poor neighborhood support and cohesion- which all lead to increased risk.
The economic costs include medical costs, lost productivity, criminal justice activities and other costs, including victim property loss or damage. The 2018 U.S. census population and the Louisiana prevalence rates estimate that the approximate lifetime economic burden in Louisiana is $97.8 billion.
Under the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Package, part of the landmark 2017 criminal justice reform initiative, the Capital Area Family Justice Center (CAFJC) was recently created and opened. Seventy percent of the savings from reducing the prison population is reinvested under Act 261 and 20% of the money goes to victim services. Victims of domestic violence and dating violence in eight parishes will be able to receive services from CAFJC including children and youth services, counseling and more. The center is being established with $750,000 awarded in 2018, the first round of grants announced by the governor. An additional $950,000 will go towards victim reparations, child predator technology, and methods of notifying victims of an offender’s release or movement within the system through computer interface with parish clerks of court.
Recently, Dr. Phil aired a show in which a victim of domestic violence, Stacy, was shot twice by her ex-boyfriend and left for dead in a case of “separation assault”- which he says sends 75% percent of victims to the emergency room. Dr. Phil noted that because of domestic violence 20 people are victimized every minute in the United States, 10 million per year, and that there are 20,000 calls a day to the Domestic Violence Hotline. In June 2020 in Louisiana the hotline received 394 calls in that month alone, which is a 14% increase over June 2019. The increase was even more pronounced in August 2020, when the hotline received 26% more calls than in August 2019.
As for Stacy, the victim who appeared in the Dr. Phil episode on ABC, she said she is still paranoid about Adrian, the perpetrator who left her with bullet wounds to her ribs and shoulder, a severed hand and the loss of part of her spleen and liver. Stacy said she had been diagnosed with PTSD. She associates the smell of a candle being blown out to the smell of gunpowder. Stacy wakes up in the middle of the night and feels guilt about bringing Adrian into her daughter’s life. Her daughter, Ashton, said she gets anxious over the smallest things, suffers from depression, isolates herself and stays in bed. Adrian was sentenced to 105 years in prison. As for Stacy’s lingering emotional problems, Dr. Phil said, “He’s controlling you from prison,” and told her to tell herself, “I am going to heal and do whatever I have to do to reclaim my life”.
As a state, Louisiana needs to do more to rally behind the victims of domestic violence. We must uplift their voices, protect them from future altercations, and give them the mental and physical medical care they need. It is time to rally as a community and act against the injustices that affect all age groups here in this state due to domestic violence.
If you are a victim of domestic call the Domestic Violence Hotline at 800.799.SAFE (7233) or go to https://www.thehotline.org