Following years of abuse at the hands of her husband, Sharron Shepherd made a report against her spouse with the Shreveport Police Department. The officer that assisted Shepherd recommended Shreveport Bar Foundation’s Legal Representation for Victims of Domestic Violence (LRVDV) program and she soon was in contact with attorney Elizabeth Gibson.

Having practiced law for 24 years, Gibson took on a full-time position with LRVDV eight months ago. Though she has recently left the position, the program continues as one of many offered through the Shreveport Bar Foundation’s Pro Bono Project, which gives free legal help, advice and representation. The only other employee of LRVDV is a full-time paralegal. In the last 12 months, they have matriculated 413 victims through the program.

“Domestic violence is prevalent everywhere,” said Gibson, a graduate of Loyola University School of Law in New Orleans. “It knows no financial status. It knows no skin color. It knows no age limit. Louisiana ranks second in the nation for domestic abuse homicides. Our program’s goal is to change this statistic and protect the victims.”

Married to her husband for over 20 years and seeking an end to the violence, Shepherd completed the necessary paperwork to obtain a protective order and Gibson escorted her to the courthouse to file the petition. In September, Shepherd was granted a protective order.

“Domestic violence is prevalent everywhere,” said Gibson, a graduate of Loyola University School of Law in New Orleans. “It knows no financial status. It knows no skin color. It knows no age limit. Louisiana ranks second in the nation for domestic abuse homicides. Our program’s goal is to change this statistic and protect the victims.”

Married to her husband for over 20 years and seeking an end to the violence, Shepherd completed the necessary paperwork to obtain a protective order and Gibson escorted her to the courthouse to file the petition. In September, Shepherd was granted a protective order.

“I finally built up the courage to follow through with filing the charge against him,” she said. “I came to the SPD and the sergeant I met with made me feel comfortable and no longer ashamed. Through the assistance of the LRVDV program, I obtained an 18-month protective order, the maximum amount of time one can be granted through the First Judicial District Court.” Shepherd carries a copy of the protective order with her everywhere in case there is a violation of the order. If there is a violation, she must present it to the police so her abuser can be arrested.

The LRVDV program and obtaining a protective order are often the first lines of defense in preventing domestic violence from escalating to a more dangerous situation. In 2019, the rate at which women were killed by men in Louisiana increased for the sixth year in a row, according to the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The Violence Policy Center, based in Washington D.C., also released a report that showed Louisiana ranks number two in the nation in terms of violence against women. The report also found that the rate of murders of women by men in Louisiana is more than twice the national average at 2.64 homicides per 100,000 females.

Operating solely on grant funds and donations, the LRVDV program began in July 2016 with one part-time attorney handling cases in the Caddo Parish Juvenile Court. Since then, LRVDV has expanded to include the First Judicial District Court of Caddo Parish. The program receives funding from the Community Foundation, the Louisiana Bar Foundation, First United Methodist Church, and the Beaird Foundation and works in collaboration with Project Celebration, the Family Justice Center, Good Samaritan Counseling, the courts and law enforcement.

Louisiana ranks second in the nation for domestic abuse homicides. Our program’s goal is to change this statistic and protect the victims.

“The individuals eligible for our program involve any victim who has been physically, emotionally or sexual abused. Abusers include someone the victim has married, divorced, dated or lived with,” Gibson said. “Although most of the victims who come through the program are women, the program oftentimes represents males. The program also represents elderly victims who have been abused by their caretaker or family member, in addition to grandparents seeking protection of their grandchildren who have been abused.”

The program has no income requirements for clients and will guide them through applying for the protective order, offer legal advice and attend court hearings with victims. “Research has shown that abusers often control finances as a means of controlling their victims,” Gibson said.

The first step for victims is filing a petition for a protective order, which is approximately 20-30 pages. According to Gibson, this alone can be overwhelming for victims – just one reason why it’s important for victims to seek the help of an attorney.

“Couple these feelings with a victim’s fear of facing their abuser, it becomes evident why many victims choose not to follow through with their request for protection,” she said. “That is where our program provides confidence for the victim who has the courage to come forward, as going into a courtroom can be an intimidating situation. Having an attorney who can act as a guide takes a lot of the emotional pressure off of the victim from having to be in the same room as the abuser.”

For Shepherd, the program provided her the confidence needed to walk away from an abusive marriage. She credits LRVDV for helping build her self-esteem and providing a sense of security and compassion. “I want everyone to know you are worthy and the program helped me realize it was not my fault. I am now relieved and grateful for the assistance of this program and finally feel safe,” Shepherd said.

When protective orders are violated, this can be addressed through both civil and criminal action, said Gibson. In civil court, the defendant can be ruled to return to court on an allegation of contempt of court, making it a criminal matter. At this point, the defendant can be arrested for the violation and if found guilty, the defendant can be fined or placed in jail. “Also, if a protective order is granted, the defendant has to relinquish his or her firearms and is prohibited from purchasing a firearm for the duration of the protective order,” she adds. In fact, Gibson has been involved in cases in which the abuser attempted to purchase a firearm but the protective order in place prevented the sale.

Shepherd is grateful for the program and is now working toward finalizing the divorce from her husband. She wants people to know that domestic violence can happen to anyone. “They should seek help, even if it is just seeing a counselor to talk it out,” she said. “Also, just seek your options and know that you are not alone. I would highly recommend the program through the Shreveport Bar Foundation because they went above and beyond and really helped me out.”

Elizabeth Gibson, former attorney for LRVDV

What is a Protective Order?

A protective order is issued by the civil court, a juvenile court, a family court, or a criminal court. It can protect you from being abused,  threatened, harassed or stalked. The order can also stop someone from coming to your residence or place of employment. It can prevent them from purchasing a firearm or finding your address through school records.

Getting Help with a protective order:

  • Visit the Shreveport Bar Foundation Pro Bono Project, 625 Texas St., in Shreveport or call 318.221.8104 for an appointment.
  • The LRVDV staff has protective order forms and will assist you in completing the forms. There is no cost to file.
  • The staff attorney will meet with you, review your forms and represent you in court, all without charge.
  • The only cost is a one-time administrative fee which the judge may order the defendant to reimburse if the protective order is granted.

What Should I Bring? when meeting with the attorney?

  • Police reports, medical records, photos, and names and addresses and phone numbers of witnesses to the abuse
  • Information about the abuser – current address, date of birth, description of appearance, Social Security number, driver’s license number
  • Court papers such as custody and/or parenting time orders, lease agreement, divorce papers, or criminal case records.
  • A one-time $50 administrative fee in the form of cash or money order. If the protective order is granted, the judge may order the abuser to reimburse you for this fee. This fee is for the purpose of running the program and not for court costs.

Source:
ShreveportBarFoundation_ProtectiveOrderFlyer_2017

Domestic Violence By The Numbers

  • 1 in 4 women will become a victim of domestic abuse in her lifetime.
  • 15.5 million children are exposed to domestic violence every year.
  • The medical care, mental health services, and lost productivity cost of domestic violence is $8.3 billion a year.
  • In a one-day study by the National Network to End Domestic Violence, 449 victims of abuse received shelter or transitional housing in Louisiana.
  • In 2019, Louisiana ranked second in the nation for the rate of women murdered by men, with a female homicide rate of twice the national average.

If You or a Loved One Needs Help:
Louisiana Domestic Violence Hotline
1.888.411.1333
www.lcadv.org

Source:Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Ways You Can Help the LRVDV program:
Donate through Give For Good on May 5. For more information, visit GiveForGoodNLA.org.

About the Shreveport Bar Foundation

A non-profit organization, the Shreveport Bar Foundation provides legal assistance and educational events for the public, as well as operates a Pro Bono Project. The Pro Bono Project offers free civil legal assistance to low income clients in the areas of family law, child custody, domestic protective orders, successions, leases, and other civil legal matters.

The Foundation also operates free clinics to help veterans in the Shreveport-Bossier City area and service members at Barksdale Air Force Base. They also host a free Ask-A-Lawyer clinic staffed with volunteer attorneys each month at the Shreveport Bar Center. This event is open to the public, and volunteer attorneys meet with clients for individual, one-on-one legal advice. Ask-A-Lawyer clinics take place from 5:30-7:30 p.m. on the 3rd Monday of every month. No appointment is necessary.