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Domestic violence on the rise while funding to fight the epidemi - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

Domestic violence on the rise while funding to fight the epidemic decreases

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Photograph: Dani Rodriguez / Alamy Photograph: Dani Rodriguez / Alamy
SHREVEPORT, La. -

Jennifer bears the scars of abuse that can't be seen, but will, in some ways, always be felt.

"It wasn't until he threatened my life that I was ready to go."

We've changed her name for her protection.

It was a common scenario - the first year of Jennifer's relationship was a happy time for her and her two children.

But soon, things changed.

"He would always tell me I'd never be a good nurse, I'd never even make it through nursing school and when I did, I'd be a terrible nurse."

The mental and emotional abuse escalated, until Jennifer couldn't take any more.

She opened up to her counselor, who contacted the Providence House.

"The day I lost everything was the day my life began."

That was March 14th, 2012.

That same year, the Providence House saw a state funding decrease of nearly $35,000 during mid-year cuts from the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services.

"We expect over the next number of years to continue to see a reduction in the dollars that are going to be available," says Simone Hennessee, Providence House Executive Director.

Budget cuts are nothing new, despite 38,000 crisis calls handled by shelters across Louisiana last year.

Also not new is the epidemic of domestic violence, but it's becoming hard to ignore, despite the long-held stigma associated with it.

According to the Violence Policy Center, women in Louisiana are murdered at a rate about 40% higher than the national average.

Three studies by the Domestic Violence Evidence Project revealed that if no shelter had been available, women said they would have been homeless, continued to have been beaten, or prostituted to support themselves or their abuser.

"Last year, there was an increase of 800 crisis calls to the statewide hotline alone, which is about a 15% increase," says Beth Meeks, Director of the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Just last month, D.O.V.E.S. shelter in Natchitoches closed its doors.

Residents in that shelter had to be transferred to other parishes, widening the gap in services for rural areas like Natchitoches.

"When that happens, that means there's not a hotline running, that means that there are fewer beds for women to stay in in the state. It means that there are women who are calling hotlines and being told that they don't have any place for them to stay."

And it means that women are putting their lives at risk by staying in dangerous situations.

So dangerous, in fact, that at least one domestic homicide happened in every parish of the state between 1997 and 2009.

Louisiana also has a higher than average rate of multiple-death domestic violence incidents.

Case in point, in September, a Caddo Parish jury found Shreveport man Keith Martin guilty of two counts of second degree murder in the 2011 shooting deaths of his ex-girlfriend and her mother.

Court records show the two had broken up just weeks before the murders.

"Once someone has threatened you or verbalized that, the next thing that usually happens is action," Hennessee says.

And for women like Jennifer, who make it out alive, the healing process is long, but it's a process that might never have begun without a place like the Providence House.

"If you don't feel that it's right, it's probably not. If you have to try to convince yourself and think about it and make a reason why it's okay, it's probably not okay."

During December 2012 budget cuts, when domestic violence programs lost 16% of their funding, Governor Jindal's administration announced a strategy of transitioning away from costly residential shelters, and into short-term hotel stays.

But victim advocates say hotels don't offer the security, food and counseling services that are vital when a person is fleeing an abusive situation.

Furthermore, Hennessee emphasizes that a restraining order is just a piece of paper and should always be accompanied by a safety plan.

That plan should include changing your daily routine and it may also be necessary to change your child's school.

She says to remember to tell your employer about any abuse or if you've recently left an abusive situation.

And in extreme cases, a change of identity may be necessary.

"When we get calls on the hotline and someone doesn't want to come in to the safe house, those are the kinds of things that we do with people over the phone is to talk about what are you doing to protect yourself."

That crisis hotline number for Providence House is (318) 226-5015 and can be used by anyone in the public to report abuse.

The Louisiana Department of Health & Hospital's Office of Behavioral Health also offers a Spirit Crisis Counselor at (866) 310-7977.

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