Shelter from the storm; Metro Centers for Community Advocacy offers free & confidential services to survivors of domestic violence

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 7, 2021

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LAPLACE — The CDC states that approximately 1 in 4 women and nearly 1 in 10 men will experience physical violence, contact sexual violence or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Metro Centers for Community Advocacy provides free, accessible and confidential services that provide shelter from the storm for survivors in the River Parishes and beyond. Metro’s mission is to break the cycle of violence and aid survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking through advocacy, intervention, empowerment and transformation.

Executive Director Darlene Santana, longtime advocate Evelena Conerly, and education and outreach coordinator Mark Medina shared ways Metro can help women, men and children in need. Free and confidential services include individual advocacy, safety planning, information/referrals, group support, medical advocacy, legal assistance in obtaining restraining orders, sheltering, counseling, financial literacy, caregiver support and community education.

However, the first step to getting help is understanding what domestic violence entails.

“Traditionally, people think of domestic violence as physical violence, being hit, the black eyes, the broken bones. Someone doesn’t have to be suffering from physical violence in order to get help from us,” Medina said.

According to Medina, domestic violence can also include emotional abuse, psychological abuse/gaslighting, financial abuse, isolation tactics, or other means of taking away self-sufficiency. Abuse can go on for decades or even become multi-generational.

Metro aims to remove barriers to receiving help. No strings attached, absolutely free counseling and case management services are offered to individuals regardless of whether they are documented or undocumented or if they have insurance. Transportation is always provided as needed. While Metro Centers for Community Advocacy was originally known as Metropolitan Center for Women and Children, the name was changed to reinforce the fact that resources are also available to men. The nonprofit does not discriminate by gender and is welcoming of the LGBTQ+ community.

Medina noted that an individual doesn’t have to currently be in crisis to receive assistance through Metro.

In more than 20 years as an advocate, Conerly has seen trauma resurface for individuals once they get into a new relationship and realize what they experienced in their previous relationship was not normal. Conerly said there is a lot of stigma surrounding domestic violence, compounded by beliefs that a spouse has the right to have a short fuse after a long day at work.

Getting help after the fact is especially prevalent among victims of sexual assault. Metro is ready to help, whether minutes or years have passed since the incident.

Survivors are given access to medical help and resources as an advocate helps them take the next steps. Metro’s confidential commitment ensures that adults who have experienced domestic violence or sexual violence are not forced to report to the police or get a protective order. The individual maintains the authority in all decision-making. According to Santana, the only exception is child abuse, which must be reported to authorities.

Metro has a legal advocate and a lawyer on retainer to let adult survivors know what legal protections they are entitled to. Advocates will also help individuals in abusive relationships make a safety plan. If/when they are ready to leave the relationship, Metro will help make that transition safe and speedy, with as little fallout as possible.

Santana said Metro applies for grants to assist clients financially, thereby reducing barriers to safety and independent living. Financial literacy classes are among the services offered for long-term recovery, and Metro also helps provide immediate needs such as clothes, underwear and shoes. Immediate shelter is also offered to individuals as well as their children and/or pets. Over the years, Metro has welcomed dogs, cats and even a bearded dragon into shelters. As a member of the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Metro can provide transportation to other shelters if local accommodations are filled to capacity.

Metro has also established a Sexual Assault Forensic Examinations (SAFE) program in the River Parishes in which specialized nurses are medically and legally trained to perform an examination and collect evidence. While SAFE nurses can serve as expert witnesses in court, if needed, the examination does not force victims to report their sexual abuse. Evidence kits from the examination are preserved and will be available to the individual when needed. These services are provided 100% free of charge.

Another service provided by Metro is free community education specifically tailored to different organizations, businesses, schools, civic groups and faith-based groups.

Topics include sexual assault prevention, response and bystander behavior; sexual assault response – best practices for law enforcement; domestic violence prevention and response; domestic violence assessment and response for healthcare professionals; ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences Study); stalking and technology-aided stalking education and response; personal violence prevention and healthy relationship building; personal violence bystander intervention skills; and bullying/cyberbullying education and response.
Medina said education on healthy relationships and the importance of assertive communication can shape behaviors to prevent future violence.

For more information on free and flexible community education, please contact Medina at 504-837-5400 or

Metro Centers for Community Advocacy is a proud partner of St. John United Way and United Way of St. Charles.

An advocate is available to answer calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 504-837-5400. Metro Centers for Community Advocacy can also be contacted by emailing and visiting or Centers For Community Advocacy.