For reasons probably related to poverty and low educational attainment, Louisiana has been plagued by a persistent problem of domestic violence. In this respect, it is no different than the United States as a whole, where 1/3 women in the U.S. report being victims of domestic violence at least once in their lifetime. This comes to over 5,000,000 individuals a year (larger than the entire population of Louisiana). Rape is one manifestation of domestic violence, and 20% of women and 1/70 men have reported being raped in their lifetime. Women between the ages of 16 to 24 are four times more likely to be raped than other age groups. Of these rapes, more than half were acquaintances (especially dates, when 57% of rapes occur). Around 27% of the victims did not realize they were raped and 42% do not report the episode.
Sadly, domestic violence, which represents 21% of all reported crimes in Louisiana, can escalate to murder. Our state was the 2nd highest in its partner murder rates in 2014 (30.3/100,000 inhabitants). At least one domestic violence murder has occurred in every parish in Louisiana from 1997 to 2009 and they continue to occur. In Cenla, the Rapides Foundations reported that 13.8% of adults had been “hit, slapped, pushed, kicked, or hurt in some way by an intimate partner.” This happened least in Catahoula, Allen and Winn Parishes (6.5 to 8.1%), and most in LaSalle and Natchitoches, Rapides and Vernon Parishes (14.9 to 16.3%). Among victims, low income, black women suffered the highest levels of abuse.
The cycle of violence is especially severe, as mentioned, among women and girls who are especially vulnerable due to endemic dependence and long-standing cultural stereotypes of male dominance. Violence tends to spill over to other family members and can include child abuse or elderly abuse as well. Beyond the obvious medical costs of domestic violence, the social costs are enormous, including lost wages, lost educational attainment, unwanted pregnancies, low self-esteem, depression and suicide. Women often blame themselves rather than their perpetrators and can feel humiliated and powerless to prevent violence or extricate themselves from the situation.
Rapes or other violence often goes unreported, as mentioned earlier, or worse yet, the victims have been charged for the medical costs of a hospital ER exam and sexual assault work up. Fortunately, that sad state of affairs appears to be coming to an end with recent legislation. In addition, there are various local groups including the Faith House, United Way, CASA and others who are collaborating to reduce our inappropriately high levels of domestic violence and abuse in Cenla. Soon, there will be a resource center on the grounds of the former Huey P. Long Hospital to serve the needs of abused women (and men).
Although often hidden behind closed doors, the disgrace of domestic violence, both physical and psychological, should be exposed to the light of day. If you are a victim of abuse, including rape or date rapes, or a witness to domestic violence, please report it! We all have a responsibility to stop this plague in our society. By eliminating individual occurrences, we just might be able to improve our regional and state statistics. Reducing or eliminating domestic violence may be just the tip of a larger, more sinister iceberg of social and economic issues, but since they are all related, at least we can make a start.
Report domestic violence to Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Faith House at (888) 4121-1333. Report Child Abuse and Neglect to the Department of Child and Family Services (DCSF) at (855) 4LA-KIDS or (855) 452-5437.