New laws aid victims

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 14, 2001


LAPLACE – The passing of two new bills during the Louisiana 2001 legislative session brought a victory to battered women and those fighting for them in the state. A new domestic violence law that protects women against boyfriend violence and not just battering which occurs between man and wife or a live-in partner was recently passed, and a new stalking law that redefines stalking and makes proper punishment easier to obtain was approved to ensure better protection against violators. According to Attorney Inez Kerth, who represents the Metropolitan Battered Women’s Program, before the passing of the new domestic violence law, in order for a victim to get a restraining order or a protective order against an attacker the woman had to be married to her abuser or be living with him as his wife. Starting Aug. 1, the law will allow women who have been in dating relationships to obtain restraining or protective orders against their abusive boyfriends. Under this new law, homosexual relationships are also included, whereas before they were not recognized. Kerth said the restraining order is granted without a court hearing and the protective order is given after a hearing. The protective order is good up to 18 months. “Also, very recently, the law was that if she was living with someone, she couldn’t get a restraining order unless there were children in the home. Now they have taken that provision out,” said Kerth. The second law, which involves stalking, has now been changed to address the term stalking, Kerth said. “It’s much more favorable to the victim. It used to be that the law read that it had to be willful, malicious and repeated following of the other person with the intent to place them in harm or death’s way, which is hard to prove-the intent of the individual,” she said. Now the law reads if the stalking causes a reasonable person to suffer stress then an order can be sought. The new stalking law was supported by The Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault, an organization which strives to change and update laws in order to protect people against sexual assault and harassment and properly punish assailants. According to Elizabeth Johnson, counselor for the River Parishes office of the Metropolitan Battered Women’s Program, 86 new clients entered into the program in 2000, and 152 clients carried over from the year before. Seven River Parishes women had to be placed into a shelter last year, which can sometimes be a difficult move because there is no shelter in the local area. Clients have to be taken to New Orleans or Baton Rouge. The River Parishes office, which is a non-residential office that is confidential, has to transport women in trouble to a facility that can help them. A typical scenario involves calling the St. John Parish Sheriff’s Office, having the deputies transport the woman to the parish line, then calling St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office, whose deputies will take her to the parish line. Then the Jefferson Parish sheriff’s deputies will take her the rest of the way. If the situation is safe enough, sometimes the woman can take the bus, Johnson said. “Our goal is to educate and make people aware of domestic violence in this area. A lot of people don’t know how to help battered women. Once people understand the dynamics of domestic violence, they can truly provide the services they need,” said Johnson. Though the Metropolitan Battered Women’s Program only services women and their children, there are groups that are available to men who are abused by women. Johnson said 95 percent of domestic violence reported is against women by men, and of the other five percent, some are homosexual relationships. She refers cases involving men to a place that can help them. In 1999, two women were killed as a result of domestic violence in the River Parishes. In 2000, one woman lost her life. This year, another woman was killed. Sydonna Morris, 25, of LaPlace was fatally shot in the head by her boyfriend in January. Each year in Gretna, a candlelight vigil is held to remember the women who died as a result of domestic violence. October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, and this year a vigil is planned in the River Parishes. “We focus on building their self-esteem, things to help a survivor strengthen herself. Every woman who comes through this program is stronger than she realizes because she’s a survivor,” said Johnson. “I call the children the forgotten ones.’ We sometimes forget about what they are going through. When danger comes from the people we are closest to, it’s very confusing. The one thing that every survivor must know is that it is not her fault.” The River Parishes office of the Metropolitan Battered Women’s Program can be reached at 651-7397 or 764-8021. The 24-hour crisis line can be reached at 1-800-738-8900.