New Orleans groups chart response to domestic violence

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October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Louisiana consistently leads the U.S. in domestic homicides. Louisiana ranked No. 1 for the rate of women killed by men in 2009 with a rate of 2.53 per 100,000, according to the Violence Policy Center. The state ranked at No. 4 in 2010, and No. 9 in 2011. According to the Louisiana Coalition on Domestic Violence, 81 percent of female homicides are committed by a partner or an ex-partner.

At New Orleans City Council's health, education and social services committee meeting this afternoon, members of local domestic violence prevention and aid organizations presented their efforts to curb the epidemic in the New Orleans area.

"Louisiana is one of the most dangerous, violent places to be a wife, a mother, a girlfriend," said Kati Bambrick Rodriguez, director of the New Orleans Health Department's Domestic Violence Program. According to Rodriguez, Orleans Parish has issued 3,420 personal protective orders (compared to Baton Rouge, which issued 2,088), though only 24 percent of people seeking protection actually get it, she said. Rodriguez added that no LGBT victims of domestic violence have received a protective order.

The city's domestic violence program developed the Blueprint for Safety, which creates a criminal justice response to domestic violence where all agencies follow "every step of the process." Its Sexual Assault Response Team, which began in February, maps out a criminal justice system-wide response to sexual assault. It also offers Harmony House, a supervised, safe place for families to bring children for visitation.

Mary Claire Landry, executive director of the New Orleans Family Justice Center, said the center serves 1,200 to 1,500 people a year — NOPD receives 11,000 domestic violence calls a year, with 4,000 calls resulting in an arrest. The center offers a 24-hour crisis line (504-866-9554), operated by a bilingual staff. Its shelter can only house 20 people.

"The resources we have don’t begin to address the overwhelming need," Landry said.

Julie Hagan, director of the city's Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, said its domestic violence screening pilot program at its Central City site has screened 1,287 women from March 1 to Sept. 23 — though only 2 percent screened as "at-risk," and no participants followed up with their referrals. The program has a two-question screen: whether the person has been abused, and how. Referrals are to the Family Justice Center. Hagan said it has made revisions to the program, including offering a screening in Spanish and extending the program to its New Orleans East and West Bank Sites.

"We’ve found many women to have trust issues in terms of referring," Hagan said. "People will answer no to questions," though some women are "clearly visibly beaten."

"They're comfortable speaking to us but not to people they're less familiar with," she added.

District B councilmember LaToya Cantrell said the Whole Foods development at the ReFresh Project site on Broad Street is committed to offering WIC services at that location.

One victim of domestic violence described her experience receiving help in New Orleans after leaving Texas — homeless, living in a shelter until asked to leave because she was childless, sleeping in cars, and unable to receive services because funding wasn't available to provide services to her, despite referrals.

"I was ready to give up," she said. "Sometimes just providing a place where a woman and child can lay their head at night can save a life."

For more information about the city's domestic violence services, visit its website.

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