October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. However, Domestic Violence is a reality for millions of Americans every day. According to the Centers for Disease Control, domestic violence is “abuse within the context of a current or former intimate relationship where one partner asserts power and control over the other.” It can include “physical, sexual and psychological abuse, as well as economic coercion.
The Plaquemines Parish District Attorney’s Office has a Domestic Violence unit. The coordinator of this unit is Ms. Bonnie Bondi. In her capacity as coordinator, she must keep track of well over a hundred cases every year. She coordinates with the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff’s office, the assigned Assistant District Attorneys, the victims, the courts, the Louisiana Department of Child and Family Services, the various counseling and community service providers and the offenders. Her primary responsibility is to assist the victims and the prosecutors to attain a just result.
Domestic violence effects every race, religion, age, marital status, sexual orientation and economic status. It adversely impacts all family members during the period of abuse and for years after the abuse ends. While the State of Louisiana has made great advancements in the criminal justice system to combat and address the scourge of family violence and domestic violence over the past decade, there is still a long way to go. For instance, there is still a dearth of resources to protect victims from the financial burden that comes with escaping abusive relationships, leaving abused women with the dilemma of having to risk death, physical violence and sexual assault to keep a roof over their heads and that of their children. Additionally, even when abusers are punished in criminal courts with probation, jail sentences, protective orders and gun divestiture orders, these same women are losing the civil battles for property and child custody.
The statistics related to family violence, domestic violence and intimate partner violence are staggering. Males and females experience domestic violence every 15 seconds in this country, about half of which is never reported to law enforcement authorities. Often, even after domestic violence is reported and the abuser is arrested, the abused person decides not to support the prosecution of the abuser. This is normal and understandable, but it does hamper the government’s ability to hold the domestic abuser responsible for his or her criminal behavior.
The power and control exercised by abusers in family violence scenarios is widespread and multi-faceted. Family violence and intimate partner violence usually starts out small and slow, and expands from there. The abusers try to and often succeed in controlling their victims using emotional abuse, guilt, apologies, gifts, and intimidation. They may threaten their partner’s children, parents, jobs, friends, pets and property. They seek to isolate their partners from the support of friends and family. They are often jealous and allow for no privacy, going through their partner’s mail, email, text messages, voicemails and social media accounts. They seek to prevent their partners from becoming financially independent from them, fostering an atmosphere of dependency. Then, the abuse progresses to coercion and threats, even threats to commit suicide if their partner tries to end the relationship. The physical abuse generally increases in seriousness from pushes to slaps to punches to beatings.
One of the most insidious forms of domestic violence is strangulation. This month, three members of the District Attorney’s office, along with three members of the Sheriff’s office, attended a two-day training on Strangulation Prevention at the Family Justice Center in New Orleans. Strangulation is a deadly crime that renders the victim helpless and always causes permanent damage to the victim of the strangulation. People who have been strangled often exhibit permanent and serious mental, intellectual and physical debilitation to their mental faculties and their bodily organs. It is almost exclusively a crime against women, and a woman who has been strangled by her intimate partner is statistically at least eight times more likely to be killed by that person than women who have not been strangled.
Nationwide, over ten percent of all homicide victims are victims of domestic abuse. Often, the abused partners become more at risk of being killed by their abusers when they finally decide to leave the relationship. In relatively safe communities such as we have in Plaquemines Parish, the percent of homicides related to domestic violence is much higher than the national average, because people are less likely to be killed from gang violence, drug activity and general criminal activity. Thus, most of the homicides in this parish have been related to domestic violence.
However, due largely to our proactive Domestic Violence unit, and their valiant efforts to hold perpetrators responsible, even when the victims decide not to prosecute, we have made great strides in Plaquemines Parish to tamp down family violence. We actively pursue protective orders, gun divestitures and “no abuse” classes for offenders. As a result, the recidivism for Domestic Violence offenders is lower than the national average. Furthermore, the District Attorney’s office, through its Domestic Violence unit, has had several success stories. Recently, we had one case in Division A and another case in Division B with very positive results. The case in Division A involved the brutal beating of a young woman by her boyfriend while aboard a cruise ship in the waters inside Plaquemines Parish. Our office was able to keep the offender remanded to the custody of the Plaquemines Parish Detention Center for nine months without bail until the case was resolved to the satisfaction of the State, the Court and the victim. The case in Division B involved the beating of a married woman by her husband while he she was eight months pregnant, in front of their three children. At the first court setting, the abuser pleaded guilty on all counts and was placed in the custody of the Department of Corrections for four years, allowing the abused woman to safely escape the abusive relationship with children after the fourth child was born.
Finally, while these cases were successfully prosecuted, as are many others every month, it remains a constant battle to keep the people of our parish as free from abuse as possible all year, not just during Domestic Violence Awareness month. It is our duty to remain vigilant and proactive, and the Plaquemines Parish District Attorney’s Domestic Violence unit works hard to keep victims safe.