November 20, 2019
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We must break the taboo surrounding domestic violence

Domestic violence affects the entire community. A Louisiana nonprofit is helping its residents speak frankly about domestic abuse in the hope of ending its vicious cycle.

Domestic violence does not discriminate—it can affect anyone, from any socio-economic background, so it's imperative that we talk about ways to end it in our communities, says Courtni Becnel of the nonprofit A Safe Space for St. Charles.

Many people don’t realize how widespread domestic abuse is in our communities. Domestic violence is not a poor person’s problem; it can be found in the wealthiest of households. It is not hiding down dusty, dirt roads; it can be found in the chicest cities. It can stand loudly in the pulpit on Sunday mornings or quietly sit in the front pew. There is no criteria to become a victim of domestic violence. It can happen to anyone.

Sometimes domestic violence is on full display. There have been times when partners physically or verbally abuse the other in public. However, abuse is most often kept a secret. Abusers will isolate the victim and save punishments for private. Even when we know or suspect that abuse is going on, we tend to turn the other way. For so long, the belief has been that domestic violence is a private matter that doesn’t concern outsiders.

[ Read More: One survivor’s story of breaking free from domestic violence and regaining financial freedom ]

On the contrary, domestic violence affects us all. It seeps into our neighborhoods, schools, and homes. Victims may constantly rely on emergency personnel for help. First responders may be caught in the crossfire when responding to such calls. Children of the parties involved may exhibit violence in schools and neighborhoods. Those who grow up in abusive households may become abusers as well. Abusers are often good at hiding their tendencies. So how do we protect our children from dating and marrying abusers? How do we stop this pervasive, destructive monster? If it is taboo to intervene, how are we able to address the issue?

A Safe Space of St. Charles is a domestic violence advocacy and support program situated in St. Charles Parish, Louisiana. It is a small organization originating from very humble beginnings. Founder Shirley Parram-Sims grew up in a household of domestic abuse. She started this organization in 2009. Together with Shelter Director Ivy Williams, and myself, we are able to provide a safe place for survivors of domestic violence. Last year, there were over 200 reported cases of domestic violence in this parish. This does not include the dozens of secret or non-reported incidents. A National Coalition Against Domestic Violence 2016 report found that 81 percent of female homicides in Louisiana are committed by a partner or ex-partner. This shows that domestic violence is not only a nuisance, but a life threatening situation.

A Safe Space of St. Charles has amped up efforts to bring awareness not only to domestic violence but also to the struggles that survivors face when they leave. Every year, Parram-Sims and Williams participate in the United Way of St. Charles pledge campaign. This year, they included current and past clients. Putting people face to face with actual survivors reinforced the message that domestic violence does not discriminate. Since then, our clients have spoken at several club meetings, campaign drives, and fundraisers. This has resulted in increased financial support, which is the goal for a small nonprofit.

Equally important is that by presenting these client testimonials, numerous other women have come forward to share their stories. We are very happy that they are finally able to release any trauma, pain, guilt, or disappointment.

Our small staff is sometimes overwhelmed with the demand of services, but the outcomes make it so fulfilling. This new method is truly spreading awareness within the community. We have been the focus of three senior projects. We have been the recipients of corporate grants and donations. Residents are beginning to realize how prevalent and destructive domestic violence is within our community. Now that we have unmasked this villain, we hope that the citizens will ban together to end it once and for all. Of course, then we’ll be without a job, but it will be worth it!

Courtni Becnel

Courtni M. Becnel

A Safe Space of St. Charles

Courtni Becnel Waguespack works as a fundraiser and grant writer for A Safe Space of St. Charles Domestic Violence Advocacy and Support Program in Hahnville, Louisiana. She has been with the organization since 2018. Courtni also teaches ACT prep part time. She is currently working on a Master’s of Science degree in Herbal Medicine. She hopes to attend medical school or nursing school in the future, but for now, she enjoys spreading awareness about domestic violence. In the little spare time she has, she hosts free ACT prep for students in the community. She resides in Vacherie, Louisiana, with her husband, children, fur-baby Poppy, and a host of relatives nearby.