SPECIAL REPORT: A domestic abuse survivor tells her story

SPECIAL REPORT: A domestic abuse survivor tells her story

SOUTHWEST LOUISIANA (KPLC) - It can be tough to understand why victims of domestic abuse stay in those relationships for so long.

But for those victims, it comes down to fear, financial security, and simply wanting to keep a family together - no matter what.

Here's the story of one survivor who wants others to know the signs to look out for and when to get out.

KPLC has agreed to keep our victim's identity hidden for her protection. She will share her story using the name Kelly.

Kelly stayed in an abusive marriage for 20 years, believing her spouse, after each incident and apology, saying he'd change. She learned first-hand the struggle of getting out - and what supports are out there for victims.

So what "real protection" do victims of domestic violence have?

"When we first met, he was very persuasive - a gentleman, very attractive," said Kelly.

She said she immediately fell for that man. The two married not long after, but that's when the control issues started.

"I wasn't able to leave home unless he knew exactly where I was going. If I went to work and came home 20 minutes late, there were issues," explained Kelly.

Then, things turned physical.

"He'd just pick me up, throw me across the room. As long as in his mind it was an open hand, he wasn't physically harming me," said Kelly.

There was mental abuse, too.

"Couldn't be skinny enough; couldn't be heavy enough;, couldn't have hair the right color. No matter how strong of a person you are, it breaks you down and you begin to believe what that person's telling you," said Kelly.

For 20 years, Kelly endured what she calls "progressive" abuse from a man who also abused drugs and alcohol. But one day, she'd finally had enough.

"He came into the home when I was sleeping, strangled me to the point of where I was unconscious. I reached out for help at that point," said Kelly.

Kelly called authorities, who arrested her husband, and she filed for a restraining order. But even then, she didn't feel safe.

"It's just a piece of paper," said Kelly.

"The effectiveness of the restraining order depends on the perpetrator," said Kathy Williams, executive director at the Oasis Women's Shelter.

"If they fear losing their job or they fear being arrested for violating it, they're going to follow it. If they are just that mad, that angry that they don't care what happens to them, it is a piece of paper," Williams said.

Victims can obtain a restraining order through the shelter or from the Clerk of Court's office. Unfortunately, Williams said the victims and cases they're seeing are getting more dangerous.

In fact, a new report out by the Violence Policy Center said Louisiana now ranks number two in the country when it comes to men murdering women.

"We have been number four for the last couple of years that we got the report. And the reports are two years behind so the 2014 year we have moved up from number four to number two," said Williams.

Before things escalate, Williams said it's important that victims report restraining order violations.

"You need to call law enforcement and have them do something about them violating it. The first time," explained Williams.

Calcasieu Parish Sheriff Tony Mancuso added, "You need to call us immediately."

Mancuso said while a restraining order is a tool, when it comes to their effectiveness, "It's not foolproof."

He said they have hundreds of restraining orders currently in their system - their caseload is on the rise.

"We've handled, the sheriff's office, in 2015, about 1,500 domestic violent cases and it looks like we're on track to carry out that exact same number this year," said Mancuso.

His advice? Call authorities; get to the shelter or another safe spot; "And get the proper documentation to give us some teeth to help protect you."

A paper trail is not always there for victims.

"The charges from 10 years ago, I dropped them; I signed an affidavit," explained Kelly.

Calcasieu District Attorney John DeRosier said victims recanting their statements or dropping charges is common - but this doesn't help them when it comes time to prosecute.

"Probably 70 percent of the time, the female victim will come in, file an affidavit of 'non prosecution'," said DeRosier.

DeRosier said many times it's because the victim has no means of support - except for the husband - or fear.

For Kelly, she believed her husband's words, "Being told time and time again, if you leave, I will kill you. When a person tells you that, you do become afraid."

However, DeRosier said dropping charges can be a green light for some violators.

Plus, DeRosier added, "Domestic violence is progressive. And if you don't check it, if you don't break that cycle early on, you're gonna have a serious injury or a homicide. And as you well know, over the years, we've had a number of homicides based on domestic violence."

"We had four deaths in Calcasieu Parish, since Oct. 1 last year," added Williams.

And in Calcasieu, there's no signs of it slowing down.

"Most of the murders that we handle are either drug-related or domestic violence - if that tells you anything," said Mancuso.

So if a restraining order is just a piece of paper, what safety net do victims have?

"We never advocate violence, but you know what? In the state of Louisiana, you have the right to protect yourself," Mancuso said.

Mancuso cautions victims to get trained before arming themselves. Kelly listened, but the fear remains.

"My biggest fear is that I will be one of the statistics; I will be a victim and my children will have to come visit me in a grave and not run and give me a hug. Because I have no doubt in my mind that he doesn't sit and stir on this every day and he will come looking for me," said Kelly.

Not that she regrets getting out, but life for her has forever changed.

"My life turned has been turned upside down. Home - I don't know where that is. I stay up during the night and I sleep during the day," said Kelly.

She said she reached out to KPLC in hopes of helping others.

"For those that are still in the situation, that they get out and they seek help," said Kelly.

When asked what she's fighting for - she said it's just two words: "My life."

Even now, with a restraining order, and carrying a gun, Kelly said she doesn't feel safe and is always looking over her shoulder. But she said at least she stood up to her abuser. And she hopes this story and her message can help those going through a similar situation and to get out and find help.

The Oasis Women's Shelter is open 24 hours a day. You can reach them by calling 1-800-799-SAFE.

An upcoming Women's Empowerment Luncheon is scheduled for October 4th. More information is available HERE.

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