DENHAM SPRINGS – Huddled under a pavilion at North Park in Denham Springs, holding flickering candles as the sun set, a solemn group of people listened intently as a domestic violence survivor recounted her story. At the other end of the pavilion, a table was lined with placards featuring the names of people who lost their lives in the last year at the hands of family members or partners.

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month and an event held on Thursday, October 10, was intended to shine a light on the problem as Southeast Advocates for Family Empowerment (SAFE) held their annual vigil remembering victims of the epidemic.

It came at a poignant time as Livingston Parish is reeling from two recent domestic violence homicides, one occurring the same week as the vigil.

“Since January of 2019, we have 770 domestic related reports in our system that have resulted in approximately 503 domestic related arrests across our parish,” said Sgt. Sloan Erdey of the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office’s Domestic Violence Division. “On average that’s about 54 domestic related arrests a month.”

SAFE is a “private, nonprofit organization that assists survivors of domestic violence,” according to their website. They offer numerous services including a 24-hour crisis help line, a safety planning checklist, individual and group counseling, housing, education, and legal referrals and paperwork assistance. The organization serves Livingston, Tangipahoa, St. Helena, and parts of Washington Parishes.

“We all have the same goal in mind, but we have different ways of getting there,” said Denham Springs Police Chief Shannon Womack. “We arrest the bad guys and then we hand [the victims] off to the other advocacy groups. [SAFE] is the primary support group we put them in touch with.”

“October is our month to recognize those who have lost their lives to domestic violence and to honor the ones that are still living in it,” said Sally Rouse with SAFE. “There’s a bunch out there.”

While 95 percent of domestic violence victims are women, Rouse is quick to point out that SAFE works with male victims as well.

“I work with the guys and it’s just as ugly on their part, the same dynamics are involved,” she said.

The biggest need according to Rouse is housing, adding that they do accept donations of food and clothes.

When asked what is most important for a victim to do, Rouse was quick with her response, “Call an agency like us. Come sit down and talk with us. There are people out there to help.”

SAFE can be found online at https://www.safelouisiana.org/ or by calling 985-542-8384 or 1-888-411-1333.

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