Fight for Freedom: Victim recalls years of husband’s abuse

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EDITOR’S NOTE: To protect the identity of the victim who courageously agreed to be interviewed for this article, the Tri-Parish Times has changed her name to Jane Doe.

They started as strangers in a store aisle, fell in love and married; almost as quickly, Mr. Right turned into Mr. Wrong.

“We met at the store where I worked,” said Jane Doe, a survivor of domestic abuse. “He needed help finding something, and I helped. After that, we started talking.”

From the outset, Doe’s boyfriend changed. A few weeks after learning Doe was expecting, the relationship became explosive.

“I could see the traits in him,” she said. “He had an aggressive attitude. I thought about leaving him early in the relationship, but I didn’t. We’d have our bad moments, then he would apologize.”

With one child from a previous relationship and another on the way, leaving wasn’t an option.

Had Doe been knowledgeable in domestic violence, she’d have seen the cycle: tension and anger buildup, outbursts of abuse, subsequent apologies and periods of calm.

“He was very sporadic,” she said. “The littlest things would set him off. … I would do anything to stop it.”

To this day, Doe is reluctant to talk about the abuse. She deflects questions about the specifics, saying only that it was harsh.

After each incident, Doe’s husband was repentant – it’s what experts refer to as the “honeymoon phase.”

“He would apologize and say he didn’t mean it, buy me flowers and gifts and promise that it wouldn’t happen again.”

Doe lived the nightmare for six years. Beatings and verbal assaults progressively escalated.

There’d be stretches when everything was fine. Then, in a moment of rage, he’d throw Doe and her two children out on the streets without any means of support, later begging her to return and promising to change.

She stayed out of fear.

“I was worried about my kids,” Doe said. “That’s what kept me there. I knew he would retaliate if I left. I knew he would go ballistic.”

In 2010, during a calm period, Doe learned she was pregnant again.

“He was happy again because now I would have to stay with him, that I wouldn’t be able to get out on my own,” she said. “‘You have to marry me now, you have to stay.’ That’s how he thought.”

They married, and the violence worsened.

“Was I more scared to stay, or was I more scared to leave?” Doe asked. “In the end, I was more scared to stay.”

Doe said her husband, who is currently serving 18 years for drug-related crimes, was himself addicted to illegal narcotics.

“I knew it was no longer safe for me and my kids,” she said.

Six months after the birth of the couple’s second child, Doe filed for divorce.

Initially, the relationship was amicable. Doe even allowed the children to spend time with their father over the next several weeks. All the while, a storm was brewing that would make any prior incidents of abuse pale in comparison.

One day, he showed up at Doe’s home unexpectedly and, as she pulled into her driveway, he flung the back seat door open and tried to remove one of their children from the moving vehicle. After Doe jumped out and tried to protect the infant, her husband began to beat her in the street.

A neighbor saw the entire incident and called police. It was Mr. Right’s first domestic violence arrest.

The Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office’s Domestic Violence Unit provided support. Doe detailed the violence dating back to the beginning of the relationship.

The next several months were a blur. Doe spent nights in shelters and days in court fighting her abuser for custody of their two children.

Doe’s husband met his fate in court nearly a year after she filed for divorce. He was found guilty of a litany of offenses, domestic abuse and child endangerment among them.

“I take things day by day, really,” Doe said. “We are happier now. We are family now. Going forward, I am thankful for my family and friends.

“More than anything, I am a huge advocate of police social services. If not for them, I don’t know where I’d be today. The LPSO’s social services unit has been amazing to me and my kids. They provided us with shelter and made us feel safe and protected.”

And, for the first time in years, Doe has come to understand the strength it takes to survive domestic violence.

“One of the domestic violence unit officers told me, ‘It takes strength to go through that kind of situation,’” she said. “It takes strength to leave. An abuser makes you think you are nothing, but it takes a strong person to deal with that. No one deserves that type of treatment.”

Doe has since returned to work and purchased a home and a car. She and her children are enjoying their freedom, but she worries about the children growing up without their father.

“It didn’t have to be this way,” she said. “I feel sorry for my children, that their dad became this person and that I have to explain these things to them. There is also the financial side of it. It’s hard. We have our daily struggles, but the kids have the things they need. I rely on my family a lot, but things are really good.”

Doe’s husband still corresponds with the children via mail, but the mother of three insists the conversations remain upbeat.

“I spoke to him for the first time when he asked if he could write to the kids,” she said. “It was extremely hard to talk to him. I told him he could only write to them if he asked them about school or their friends — positive things. I don’t want him writing to them about what happened.”

Doe reads each of the letters before reading them to the children, and she has already faced questions from their oldest child.

“She asks ‘Why did daddy do the things he did?’” Doe said. “I always tell her that I can’t answer that, daddy has to. She has asked him in letters, but he never answers her directly. I tell him that he needs to tell her something that will help soothe her mind.

“I have endured some negativity by talking to my children about what happened, but I want to be honest about it.”


While some cases of domestic violence may be between siblings, many are cases between men and women in a relationship or marriage. Men on the receiving end of the abuse also make up a small percentage of cases. Domestic abuse battery charges are classified as either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the degree of battery and whether other charges accompany the violation, such as the use of a weapon or breaking and entering. Louisiana has “no drop” policy on domestic violence arrests, and those arrested must go to court for the charge.

In Terrebonne Parish, the number of domestic violence cases as of October has surpassed last year’s total. In 2012, there were 468 domestic violence cases in the parish. Of these, 443 were misdemeanors and 25 were felonies. As of October this year’s number of misdemeanors was at 525, and the number of felony cases of domestic abuse has tripled to 77.

“We are seeing more fourth-offense domestic abuse cases than 10 years ago,” said Terrebonne Parish First Assistant District Attorney Carlos Lazarus. “We can stack more (new convictions) on those (previous) convictions. We are prosecuting more second, third and fourth domestic violence offenses, usually the same victim. The victim keeps going back to the relationship.”

The Terrebonne Parish district attorney’s office prosecutes every domestic violence case, but in very rare instances, if the two people agree, there is a possibility that the charges may be dropped.

“Sometimes individuals are charged with domestic violence, even though it is not a classic domestic violence case,” Lazarus said. “For example, we may get a couple who maybe went out and drank a little too much and then got into a shouting and shoving match. We look at the history of their relationship, if something like this has ever happened before.”

In these types of cases, the district attorney would interview each party separately and both would have to consent for the possibility of dropped charges.

“If there is no criminal record for both parties, there may not be a need to put them through prosecution, but those cases are pretty rare,” Lazarus said. “The victim signs a dismissing affidavit, but they are told that the final decision whether or not to prosecute is not theirs – it will be made by the prosecutor. The likelihood that a case will be dropped is almost zero. That is our policy.”

According to Lazarus, signs of the classic cases of abuse usually involve threats like “If I can’t have you, no one will,” and breaking of things like cell phones.

“You can see the behavior that is unhealthy,” he said. “We are always on the lookout, and law enforcement is also more aware. These cases are treated very seriously.”

Those convicted of domestic abuse may be placed in the parish’s Court Appointed Probation program or enrolled in an anger management program, but that is up to each individual judge.

In Lafourche Parish, domestic abuse cases are on the decline. In 2012, 404 domestic violence cases came through the Lafourche Parish district attorney’s office, and as of October, there were 228 this year. Of the 21-month total of 632 cases, 393 cases were misdemeanors and 231 were felonies.

“Every year, we have a little less,” said Geralyn Pitre, Lafourche Parish district attorney’s office domestic violence coordinator. “I hope this means we are doing a great job, and the perpetrators aren’t doing it anymore.”

The Lafourche Parish district attorney’s office stringently adheres to the state’s no-drop policy, and each case that comes in is reviewed by Lafourche Parish Assistant District Attorney Diana Sanders.

“All domestic violence cases come to court, and they (the abusers) don’t like that,” Pitre said. “We feel that if we can inconvenience them in any way, hold them accountable, maybe that will deter them from doing it again.”

As coordinator, Pitre sees each of the victims to discuss the charges against the abuser and helps direct them to shelters or service centers.

“If a victim wants to have the charges dropped, I stress the importance of holding the abuser accountable,” Pitre said. “The DA is not here to break up a family, and I am not here to judge why they stayed in the relationship. A crime has been committed, and someone needs to be held accountable. I tell them, ‘If he is held accountable, maybe you won’t have to see me again.’ Once I put it to them that way, some of them agree with me.

“Some victims want the death penalty for their abuser. Others want to get their abuser help, whether it’s help for drugs, alcohol or anger management. I tell them that the abuser needs to plead guilty to get help, that we can get them into a battery intervention program if they plead guilty.”

Last year, the St. Mary Parish Sheriff’s Office made 78 domestic violence arrests for aggravated battery and aggravated assault. To date this year, there have only been 40 domestic violence arrests.

“I think this year’s number will be lower,” said St. Mary Parish Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Traci Landry. “I don’t anticipate getting another 35 arrests by the end of the year.”

Landry credited the decline in arrest numbers to an increased awareness in the community but acknowledged that not all domestic violence incidents are reported.

“More victims are realizing that they don’t have to live like that,” she said. “On the other hand, there may be some calls that we may not be getting. We may not be getting a clear picture.”


When the time arrives that a domestic violence victim is ready to seek help, there are many different outlets available in the Tri-parish area, including services from district attorneys’ offices, shelters and even law enforcement.

One local law enforcement agency at the forefront of the fight against domestic violence is the Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office Police Social Services. In 2009, the department received the Award for Professional Innovation in Victim Services from the U.S. Department of Justice.

“Once we saw the numbers (of domestic violence cases) were not going down, that’s when we really started to address the problem,” said Lt. Valerie Martinez with LPSO Police Social Services. “I am a survivor of domestic violence. I am very passionate about domestic violence awareness. The day they (victims) walk away, we will be here when they are ready to go.”

About 11 years ago, the LPSO formed a domestic violence task force and began specialized training and patrols for domestic violence cases. One of the first steps in combating the problem was to update the old way of responding to domestic violence calls.

“Some officers only have the domestic violence training they got 18 or 20 years ago at the academy,” Martinez said. “Domestic violence calls are dangerous calls to go on. You are dealing with love, lust, anger and pain. The training is so obsolete, that mentality to just take them (the victim and the abuser) both to jail.

“At our academy, we teach new domestic violence concepts and try to bridge the gap. We teach officers to leave their ego at the door. You have to establish rapport with the victims. Many may not want to talk to a cop.”

During the two days of domestic violence training cadets go through at the LPSO academy, the future officers are taught what to look for when responding to a domestic violence call.

“With a domestic violence call, law mandates an arrest must be made. But who hit who? Who is the aggressor? It’s not as easy as just arresting both parties. This instills fear in the victim that she will get in trouble for maybe just defending herself.”

In order to prevent the revictimization of domestic violence victims, members of the LPSO Police Social Services helped to pass the state’s Predominant Aggressor Law. Now when officers respond to a domestic violence call, they must identify the predominant aggressor by looking at things like offensive and defensive wounds, the size and strength differences between the suspects and who is the fearful one in the situation.

“Dual arrests are not happening a lot,” Martinez said. “They only happen in about 1 percent of our DV cases. Other parishes may have had up to 20 or 30 percent. We want to find out the real picture, stop arresting victims and hold abusers accountable.

“There are signals and cues to recognize. Domestic violence is not about anger or jealousy. It’s about power and control.”

According to Martinez, no dual arrests can be made unless a domestic violence specialist reviews the case, and only the sheriff or a captain can override the decision.

In addition to updating domestic violence training, the LPSO also employs a domestic violence advocate who helps victims with protective orders and court escorts, an explanation of the court procedures and other support.

“You see these people at their worst moment, and then you see them empowered,” said Tamara Joseph, domestic violence advocate for the LPSO Police Social Services. “They go from being meek and physically, emotionally and mentally abused to feeling like they can take on the world.”

Last year, members of the LPSO Police Social Services worked with 2,240 victims, and 1,984 victims reached out to the office so far this year. The office does not limit itself to only working with victims from Lafourche Parish, as people from St. Mary, Lafayette, Terrebonne and Assumption parishes have sought assistance.

“I think the number of cases will become more frequent as the holidays approach,” Martinez said. “The holidays are times of stress for many people. We may even surpass last year’s number.”

Other trends Martinez and Joseph are noticing in domestic violence are age and race related.

“We are seeing more Hispanic victims,” Martinez said. “I watched my father beat my mother and break her arm. She was (living in the country illegally), and she feared deportation. With Hispanic victims and the fear level of deportation, they will tolerate unthinkable things.

“Victims are also getting younger and younger. We are seeing it in relationships among minors and in cases where two minors have a child together. These people have never even been household partners.”

In the future, Martinez would like to see more lawyers offering pro-bono services for victims who are divorcing their abusers.

“As an agency and as a state, we still have a long way to go,” she said. “Patrol, administration, judges, prosecutors, even the jail system – we need to recognize the dynamics of domestic abuse. We have to have a new way of thinking.”

Both Martinez and Joseph are impassioned about their work and said nothing is more satisfying to them than helping a victim of domestic violence.

“The biggest reward is when a victim tells you, ‘Thank you for bringing back my dignity,’” Martinez said. “You can’t hang that on a wall. It’s like a badge of honor on my heart. If you are in this job for anything else, you are in the wrong job.”

“That’s when it really hits you that you are making a difference, when a victim makes that decision to leave,” Joseph said.

For many victims of domestic abuse, the choice to leave an abusive relationship is far more complicated than packing a bag and walking out the door. Often, victims are in a sense tied to their abuser in one or several ways. Some have children with their abuser, and children can affect a victim’s decision to leave because some victims do not want to separate a child from his or her father. These are just some of the many for instances heard by counselors at The Haven in Houma.

“They don’t want to uproot their children from friends or school,” said Melissa Williams, training coordinator at The Haven. “They still want them to have that normal structure. Living in a shelter is not easy.”

Others stay because of emotional reasons, including the fear of retaliation, the shame of what has happened to them or for financial reasons.

“The question is not so much why women choose to stay,” Williams said. “We try to understand what keeps them in a relationship. They (victims) think through different barriers. There are many different aspects to leaving, many different things that tie a victim to a relationship. They must undo all of those before leaving. They must consider physical safety. The danger level increases when leaving a relationship.

“Lots of people don’t see the victim thinking about these things.”

In many instances, victims may feel isolated and alone, and this is where places like The Haven are help to those in need. In addition to serving as a shelter, The Haven also offers support groups and individual counseling for adults and children, public presentations, a 24/7 crisis intervention hotline and assistance with filing restraining orders. Many of those who seek the center’s help are from Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes.

“When I give talks and presentations, I can see the light bulbs go off in (some) people’s heads,” Williams said. “They may talk to me privately maybe about themselves or a family member and ask if something specific is considered abuse. The more people understand about the tactics used in domestic abuse, the more people are likely to open up.

“We can help navigate people to some of our services. I think as we increase awareness, more women are coming in for help or at least asking questions about just what is considered domestic abuse. My thinking is with increased awareness and understanding of what domestic violence is, victims will alert police more often, take more measures to be safe.”

Individual counseling sessions for women are the center’s most utilized service each year. Those who attend the one-on-one sessions find their stories easier to tell than in a group setting.

“They are realizing they don’t have to live that way anymore,” Williams said. “More victims are reaching out to us and law enforcement. More people are seeing it (domestic violence) as bystanders. More and more people don’t want to be a victim. Friends see others go through it and don’t want to die a victim of domestic violence.”

Though many of those who come in to The Haven for counseling have left their abusers, some remain in the relationship.

“Some victims are unable to move on emotionally or financially,” said Daphne Young, operations director at The Haven. “Each victim is different. It depends on the person and how they feel about what is going on. Sometimes counseling helps them to move on. Some may even have a plan, a safety, to get out.”

“We urge people to recognize and understand the signs and know that when a woman is really safe and really willing to leave, she will leave,” Williams said. “Leaving takes a lot of consideration. They need to find the right services and resources. If those things are not there, she cannot leave safely. She can leave, but she may not leave with her life.

“People don’t need to be so harsh on women who are going through this and judge them that way.”

At Chez Hope in Franklin, which serves mainly St. Mary, Lafourche, Assumption and Iberia parishes, victims can utilize an emergency shelter, and are counseled on options regarding food stamps, child support, legal advocacy and support groups. The center also conducts awareness programs in communities and schools.

“The shelter stays full,” said Cherrise Picard, director of services at Chez Hope. “Those who visited the shelter mostly sought housing, restraining-order assistance and our options counseling.”

The main shelter at Chez Hope has three apartments, and each dwelling can house one family. Residents can stay at main shelter for up to six weeks and will be provided with food, room and board free of charge. The center’s alternative shelter, where victims and their children are housed once out of immediate danger, can take in two families at a time for up to three months. Rent and bills are also covered in the alternative shelter, but residents must supply their own food and paper products.

Chez Hope also offers a Batterers Intervention Program for abusers. In 2012, 97 abusers participated in the program, and 103 have entered into the program so far this year.

Picard credited the increase in the number of participants to more awareness of the program among area judges, who are ordering more abusers to enter the program.

In addition to the services at area shelters, victims of domestic abuse can utilize the Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office Parents and Children Together (PACT) center. The center provides supervised visitation and monitored exchanges for families with a history of – or potential for – domestic violence, dating violence, child abuse, sexual assault or stalking.

“More and more people are coming to the PACT center,” said PACT coordinator Pam Guedry. “We are getting the word out about our services. The sheriff looked for grants to open this center. He realized that we needed to go a step farther with child custody services. It felt right to have a place for visitations.”

Guedry works closely with LPSO Police Social Services and had nothing but praise for the working relationships in the parish.

“From my standpoint, the communication between judges and the sheriff’s office is so beneficial,” she said. “We follow through with the case. We care what is taking place.”

Guedry said the benefits of the center are great for both parents and children.

“Victims are in even more danger after they leave,” she said. “The abuser no longer has control, and sometimes they will use the children to regain control. Many violations of protective orders occur when exchanging the children for visitation (during unsupervised exchanges). At PACT, we can watch and monitor visits.

“Children are not worried about their parents having a confrontation during the visit or during an exchange for visitations.”

Lafourche residents show their support during the parish’s Paint the Town Purple candlelight vigil for victims of domestic violence. The event, held last Wednesday night, honored those killed at the hands of abusers. October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.