Battered woman's life saved

Credits new Sheriff's unit


December 24, 2009 at 3:25 pm  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Lt. Pam Schmitt (left) and victims representative Melissia Dempster work the phones following up on parish crimes.
Jonathan Menard
Lt. Pam Schmitt (left) and victims representative Melissia Dempster work the phones following up on parish crimes.
For several years, 22-year-old Cora Shaw was living in a continual nightmare.

The mother of two says that she was constantly beaten by her boyfriend and even had two brushes with death when he lit her on fire and forced a plastic bag over her head.


Things were so bad, that Shaw says she contemplated taking a bunch of pills and ending her life.


“I was living a lie,” she said. “Pretending to be happy, walking around with a smile on my face, but I was hurt, depressed and ready to take my own life.”


The violent ordeal finally came to an end when Shaw’s sister notified St. Charles Parish authorities of the abuse. But arresting the boyfriend wasn’t the end of the story for Shaw. She would need continual therapy to deal with the horrific situation.


That counseling was provided by the Sheriff’s Office’s new Crime Victim Assistance unit. This is an extreme example of the kind of help the division can offer. Sheriff Greg Champagne also says that the workers there can help victims deal with simpler problems, such as stolen bikes or lawn equipment.


“What was happening was that people were telling me that they had something stolen from their yard and they never heard from us,” he said. “It wasn’t because we didn’t care, it was because we may not have had any evidence or any information to share with them on something like that.


“Now, we can give those people a call to let them know that we are concerned with their problem and sometimes we may get more information from them that will help lead to an arrest.”


In more serious cases, such as an accident that leads to death, patrol officers can request a licensed counselor to be dispatched to the scene to assist the family of the victim. Another of the victim coordinators is a trained forensic interviewer in the field of child sexual and physical abuse and domestic violence.


And the field of domestic violence is where the new unit hopes to make the most headway. A lot of times, abuse goes unreported because the victim feels like they are trapped and that they don’t have a way out, Champagne said. But the Crime Victim Assistance unit can make escape a possibility while also helping victims deal with the outcome of their decision to leave.


After an incident is reported, authorities will go to wherever the victim is located and provide any appropriate services. This can include safe shelter, medical referral and counseling.


That is what helped Shaw deal with her situation.


Social worker Trish Hattier said that Shaw had post traumatic stress disorder, was having nightmares, suffered from flashbacks and was alienated from her friends.


“We have to empower and encourage the victims and let them know that they don’t have to participate in a violent relationship,” she said. “Our staff will provide bus tickets and hotel rooms to help these victims escape.”


The counseling was just what Shaw needed to get over her horrendous ordeal.


“I have bloomed into an intelligent young lady,” she said. “I am still standing.”


But Shaw’s case isn’t an unusual one. Sheriff’s Office spokesman Capt. Pat Yoes said that domestic violence is something that happens all over the parish. Now that the Crime Victim Assistance unit can offer more help, Yoes said that reports of domestic violence will likely increase.


“When the word gets out about what we can offer, you will start to see more and more domestic violence arrests,” he said. “That means that we are making a difference.”




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