Louisiana Domestic Violence Programs Mark Grim Anniversary

Staff reports

 The Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence (LCADV) has been working over the last year to track domestic violence services in the wake of the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  The numbers paint a grim picture.

Most of the 20 state-funded domestic violence agencies in Louisiana are located in the southern portion of the state.  LCADV has been collecting and comparing the number of shelter beds occupied and hotline calls received at each agency for the last year and many have seen significant increases.   

In the initial months after the spill, April through June 2010, the southernmost programs all showed increases in crisis hotline calls and persons sheltered compared to the previous year.  Preliminary reports from those areas show that Jefferson parish had an 86% increase in persons sheltered while St. Bernard reported a 43% increase in crisis calls. 

Numbers again showed an increase in August and September.  In those months, 9 of the southern programs showed numbers that were twice what they had been in the previous year.  Several programs indicated they have longer than normal shelter stays.  Many of the programs have been forced to turn away survivors or locate alternate shelter. 

“Survivors seem to be coming in waves.”, explained Beth Meeks, Executive Director of LCADV.  “There is an increase for a couple months and then things return to normal numbers for a month or two.  It’s been back and forth like that throughout 2010.”  Coalition staff is still collecting information from the first quarter of 2011.  

But the numbers only tell part of the story.  Advocates who are in contact with survivors every day have provided information about what they are seeing in the field.  Two-thirds are reporting more significant levels of depression in survivors and half indicate that survivors are reporting a more rapid escalation or severity of violence in incidents.  Many survivors have had increased interaction with the health system due to injuries.

“We don’t think these are new batterers.”, said Meeks.  “These are increased service requests from people experiencing more frequent or more severe violence.  That is probably the result of batterers who have more access to their families because they are not at work.”   Meeks is also concerned about compounding factors.  “While depression and stress and substance abuse don’t cause domestic violence, they can certainly exacerbate it and that is at play in this equation as well.”  Housing and financial assistance, mainly to get housing, were ranked as the number one needs of the survivors.      

Understanding what is happening doesn’t make it any easier to respond.  As numbers rise local programs have seen significant cuts in funding.  Unlike other disasters there has been almost no outpouring of donations to assist the agencies.  Programs did receive some aid from the mental health allotment set aside by BP for the State of Louisiana.       

“These agencies are in a nearly impossible situation.  As demands increase, resources are decreasing.”, Meeks commented.  “The advocates are very dedicated, but it’s frustrating to be held back by a lack of resources when you see so much need.”