By Lt. Bill Davis, Bossier Sheriff’s Office
Domestic Violence – From Victim to Survivor
The Family Justice Center is Here to Help
In the midst of the Stay-at-Home order for Louisiana residents, family members under one roof are under more stress with all this ‘together’ time, and law enforcement officials suggest this could be considered the “perfect storm” for domestic violence.
Deputies with the Bossier Sheriff’s Office made a half dozen arrests for domestic abuse battery over the first weekend in May. While DV arrests are not necessarily up at this time, the concern for law enforcement officers is that calls for help are not always being made or reported. Whether it’s a domestic violence call or response to family trouble, Bossier Sheriff Julian Whittington and law enforcement leaders take a strong stance against domestic violence and want victims to know there is hope.
One of those victims who found hope from a helpless situation was a wife named “Susan.” After years of abuse in a violent relationship, she sought help from the Northwest Louisiana Family Justice Center here in Bossier City. While her name has been changed, her true-life story provides a first-hand view of what it means to experience violence at the hands of a perpetrator, and how to get help from the Family Justice Center.
Susan’s Story – Susan’s Support
“I was very nervous, scared, and didn’t know what to do.”
Those are the words of a wife and mother who had been hit and thrown against the wall by her husband. While it wasn’t the first time she had experienced physical abuse in her decade-long relationship, it would be the last…because she made a phone call to law enforcement…and got help from the Northwest Louisiana Family Justice Center. Taking either of those steps, however, is rarely easy for a domestic violence victim. But there is help.
“The fear of the unknown is greater than the fear of the known,” stressed Detective Kelly Downey, a detective with the Bossier Sheriff’s Office assigned to the Family Justice Center. “A victim does not go on their first date with their abuser and get punched in the eye and say, ‘This is how our life is going to be.’”
Domestic violence affects millions of people, both women and men, of every race, culture, religion, age or financial status. Mental abuse – yelling, humiliation, manipulation, or threats – and physical abuse – hitting, kicking, slammed against the wall, beaten, stabbed, shot or burned – can cause detrimental and sometime deadly results.
Downey has been serving at the NWLA FJC since it opened in the spring of 2016. The passion she and other officers and DV advocates have for helping domestic violence victims permeates throughout the center, where the primary goal is to support victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and exploitation, and to break the cycle of abuse.
“The victim has been through a process of believing that they don’t deserve any better,” said Downey. “Fear and financial control are some of the biggest things we see, and there are a lot of different factors in abuse other than just the physical violence. Being able to help the victim work through that process, to put into motion from going from a victim to survivor. Being able to mold the entire person back into being a survivor, not only coming out of this situation, but having their test in life becoming testimonies for others.”
Getting Help – One Survivor at a Time
After 10 years of a physically- and verbally-abusive relationship, Susan decided she had enough. One night after being thrown against the wall, she contacted the Bossier Sheriff’s Office. The deputies came to her house, conducted their investigation, and her husband was arrested. He was transported to jail, and the deputies departed her house.
Then silence. She was alone with her child…and all was quiet. Until a phone call the next morning.
“Kelly (Det. Downey) called me the next morning and asked me if I wanted to come to the Family Justice Center and talk,” said Susan. “I was very terrified, wondering ‘should I or shouldn’t I?’”
That meeting with Det. Downey allowed Susan to write things down and tell her own story. She says it also allowed her to determine what she needed to do to protect herself.
“When you tell your story, they reassure you,” Susan said. “You are traumatized…I was terrified for a long time.”
The terror of Susan’s physical abuse began soon after her wedding. “Early in the marriage, he threw me against the wall, and I couldn’t lay my head down for a week or two. I had bruising on my arms. He told me it wouldn’t happen again.” But it did.
“Another time, he shoved me out of a vehicle and left me in another city,” Susan said. Then through the years, Susan said there was a lot of verbal anger and raging. “It wasn’t every day, but it was weekly. There was a dark, dark mood in him, and he would beat walls, screaming at the top of his lungs.”
But Susan’s life changed with two phone calls.
The first one was when Susan told herself she couldn’t do this anymore and decided to call Bossier deputies when her husband hit her and threw her into the wall. That led to her husband’s arrest. The second phone call was the one she received from Det. Downey the next day. That led her to the Family Justice Center.
To Serve…and Protect
“Whenever our patrol deputies make a domestic violence arrest, whether violent of non-violent, we will make a follow-up phone call to the victim,” said Det. Downey. “It helps the victim realize they are not alone and that there is help. Going through this process is very scary for victims. We can help them…not by making decisions for them, but supporting them in the decisions they do make. It helps them knowing they have someone they can count on.”
Det. Downey also focuses on providing evidence-based prosecution in the follow-up, such as collecting any additional evidence in the case and taking more photos. And it’s that work and interaction with the victim after an arrest that can help with the case.
Jeri Bowen serves as the director for the NWLA FJC, and the vision of the center to become a central source to aid victims of domestic violence has become a reality.
“We work to ensure victims get counseling services, help with protective orders,
work with our partners such as Geaux Bags for children’s services and Project Celebration to provide a safe house, provide transportation services, or bus services,” Bowen said. “We also help victims with food and hygiene items, utility deposits, and medical and dental care, school relocation for children, all in an effort to have no out-of-pocket cost for victims of domestic violence.”
In the case where children may be involved, detectives can set up interviews with Gingerbread House Children’s Advocacy Center that specializes in helping children in abusive situations. Family Justice Center is that one-stop source to help with all these matters.
In Susan’s case, she said she was also thankful she had family support through the process. But it was also the service and protection from the Bossier Sheriff’s Office and Det. Downey with the Family Justice Center that led her to a path of recovery.
“I can honestly say that I can call Kelly on anything,” Susan said. “If that service had not been there, I probably would have taken him back.”
One of the services that is often the most utilized is counseling.
“Broken bones and bruises will often heal, but it’s what happened to the person’s psyche and mind that can take longer,” said Downey. “There can be a grieving loss of a relationship in domestic violence cases, and we know it can take a lot longer for a victim to recover from the mental abuse than from the physical abuse. We can get counseling services for victims, and that’s where the true healing begins.”
Why Don’t They Just Leave?
“We often hear the question, ‘Well, why don’t they just leave?’” said Det. Downey. She says there is never an easy answer for domestic violence victims because they are scared and often feel alone. But sadly, it’s what they know, and as Downey noted earlier, “the fear of the unknown is greater than the fear of the known.”
So, if help is available, why not seek it?
“There are a lot of people who push things under the rug because they don’t want people to know what kind of person they’re dealing with,” said domestic violence survivor Susan. “Or because they weren’t hit every day, that it’s okay. That’s what I thought. He’s not going to explode on me again, but he did.”
Susan says it took her a long time before she sought help. “When you love somebody and you don’t want to see that they are really that person they are. I know a lot of people go back for money reasons, for children, and they swear they are going to change.”
Downey emphasizes that help is always available, but it’s up the victim to make the decision to reach out for help when they are ready to move.
Susan was ready, and she got the help she needed. “It’s not worth being with somebody that mean and horrible,” she said.
An Army Behind Them
In observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month last October, Lamar billboards in this region featured DV advocates standing behind a victim of domestic violence.
Area law enforcement leaders, district attorneys, law enforcement detectives, and leaders from Project Celebration and the Family Justice Center stood side-by-side in the billboard, with the words, “We’ve Got Your Back – Working Together to Help Stop Domestic Violence,” and another with “Behind the Arrest – We Have Your Back.”
It was an idea that Dep. Downey developed last year to ensure victims of domestic violence that they have an entire team of supporters behind them…like an Army.
“When I attended a conference on ‘Crimes Against Women’, one of the classes was on ‘Why don’t they report?’,” noted Downey. One of the reasons, she said, was because of the lack of confidence in themselves; it was another reason that shook here. “We learned that some DV victims don’t report because of lack of confidence in law enforcement,” she said shockingly. “Hearing that hit me hard, and I thought, ‘Wow, this is not possible because I know my sheriff and the stance he takes against domestic violence, and I know that we are dedicated to what we do.’ But what if there is a victim out there with that mentality who is in a domestic violence situation and they don’t report?”
Downey says she woke up in the hotel room at 3 a.m. and had a vision to show victims that they should have confidence in themselves and in law enforcement. Thus, the billboard idea to provide a visual message that domestic violence victims are not alone.
For Susan, it was a message that resonated well while she was receiving services from the Family Justice Center. “I felt like there was a team behind me; it gave me validation.”
From Victim to Survivor
Whether it is an opportunity from patrol deputies planting that seed of support to people in the community or to a victim saying, “I’ve had enough,” there is a road to recovery for a domestic violence victim.
“A lot of times victims will say one thing the night something happens, and by the time they come to courtroom, they say something different, like ‘I fell into the door, and that’s how I hurt my eye,’” said Bossier/Webster Parish District Attorney Schuyler Marvin. “That can be frustrating, but anything we can do to make a better situation out of a bad situation, I think we’re helping.”
It’s that Army of support.
“It’s a terrible feeling for someone to find themselves in the position of being a victim of domestic violence, being scared to the point that you fear someone is going to hurt you or even kill you,” said Sheriff Whittington. “But that’s why we are here…to help.”
And it’s also all about supporting victims.
“I’ve been doing this for four years, and I have people ask me ‘how do you do what you do?’” Det. Downey said. “My response is ‘How do I not?’ This is my passion, this is my specific calling with the Sheriff’s Office.”
Don’t be afraid to call.
“Don’t be afraid to pick up that phone or send that e-mail or check on our website,” implored director Bowen. “Domestic violence victims are already afraid of the circumstances they are in and the fear that they have…but don’t be afraid to call us, because we’re here to help!”
The center is located at 1513 Doctors Drive in Bossier City and is a collaboration with public and private agencies. NW FJC serves nine parishes in Caddo, Bossier, Webster, Bienville, Claiborne, DeSoto, Jackson, Sabine and Red River. Their normal office number is (318) 584-7171, and the after-hours hotline number is (318) 226-5015. The website is https://nwlafamilyjusticecenter.org/.
During this time of COVID-19 and in compliance with the restrictions placed by the State Government and the District Courts of Caddo & Bossier Parishes, NWLA FJC is temporarily working under limited office hours from 8:30 – 3:00 p.m. with minimal walk-in contact. However, if you are in an emergency situation please call 911 or your local law enforcement agency.
1 – NWLA Family Justice Center – The director and Bossier Sheriff’s Office representation. (l-r) Director Jeri Bowen, NWLA Family Justice Center; Detective Stephen Mackey, Bossier Sheriff’s Office; Bossier Sheriff Julian Whittington; and Detective Kelly Downey, Bossier Sheriff’s Office. (Photo by Lt. Bill Davis, Bossier Sheriff’s Office)
2 – Billboard – In observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month last October, Lamar billboards in this region featured DV advocates standing behind a victim of domestic violence. Area law enforcement leaders, district attorneys, law enforcement detectives, and leaders from Project Celebration and the Family Justice Center stood side-by-side in the billboard, with the words, “We’ve Got Your Back – Working Together to Help Stop Domestic Violence,” and another with “Behind the Arrest – We Have Your Back.” (Photo by Dep. Rod White, Bossier Sheriff’s Office)
3 – NWLA FJC Facility – (Photo by Lt. Bill Davis, Bossier Sheriff’s Office)
4 – NWLA FJC Brochure
5 – Hutchison Family – Detective Kelly Downey with the Bossier Sheriff’s Office and NWLA Family Justice Center presents a frame of the domestic violence billboard to Mark and Wendy Hutchison, parents of Bossier City Police Officer Trey Hutchison. He was killed in the line of duty on Aug. 11, 2004, responding to a domestic violence call. Each October, the Caddo/Bossier Domestic Violence Task Force hosts a Domestic Violence Awards Banquet in Trey’s honor. (Photo by Lt. Bill Davis, Bossier Sheriff’s Office)