La. retains high rate of women slain by men

Men are still killing women at a higher rate in Louisiana than most other states, according to a new report, a finding advocates said points to long-term challenges in improving the lives of women.

The annual report, released this week by the Violence Policy Center, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization, ranked Louisiana ninth among states in the rate of women murdered by men, the third year in a row the state has finished in the category’s “top 10.” The report, based on FBI homicide statistics, reflects data from 2011, the most recent year available, and coincides with the beginning of Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October.

“We should be ashamed of ourselves,” said Catalene Theriot, director of Voices of Innocent Citizens Empowered, a support group in New Iberia. “We need to do more to stop this.”

At 39 victims, Louisiana had a rate of 1.67 women murdered by men per 100,000 women, compared to the national average of 1.17 per 100,000, the report found. At least seven of those deaths were investigated by law enforcement agencies in East Baton Rouge Parish.

But those statistics don’t reflect the true extent of domestic violence in Louisiana, said Beth Meeks, executive director of the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, who noted the report includes only women killed in single-victim, single-offender incidents.

Meeks said her organization identified nine “multiple-death” domestic incidents — involving, for instance, a husband who kills his wife and children — that resulted in 20 fatalities in 2011.

“The reality is that our ranking is probably worse than No. 9 because the report did not take into account multi-death fatalities and we had so many in 2011,” Meeks said. “It literally looks better than it actually is.”

While Meeks said the numbers are misleading, Louisiana has seen worse rankings by the Violence Policy Center report. The state was ranked fourth and third in 2010 and 2009, respectively, and had the worst rate in the nation of women murdered by men in 2007.

“Louisiana has continued to see progress over the past four years, and we will continue to work with our partners to examine the findings (of the report) and recommend more policy changes or improvements that will help ensure the safety of women,” Trey Williams, a spokesman for the state Department of Children and Family Services, said in a statement.

In East Baton Rouge Parish, the number of women killed by men climbed to at least 10 last year, according to figures compiled by The Advocate, a death toll that included three pregnant women. At least three women have allegedly been killed by men in the parish so far this year.

The overwhelming majority of these homicides stem from domestic violence. Indeed, the report found women “face the greatest threat from someone they know, most often a spouse or intimate acquaintance, who is armed with a gun.”

“What we are seeing is that women in abusive relationships have trouble leaving when they are reliant on their partner for their basic needs, such as food, clothing and shelter,” said Racheal Hebert, executive director of the Sexual Trauma Awareness & Response Center in Baton Rouge. “Unless these women have strong, supportive family systems or a local shelter to turn to, they typically choose to stay in these relationships in order to survive.”

Hebert pointed to another recent study, by the Center for American Progress, which concluded that women in Louisiana fare worst among all states in matters relating to economic security, leadership and health.

“There are clear parallels in these studies,” Hebert added. “When women live in a state where they are not given opportunities to earn equal pay to men, are not given adequate health insurance and paid leave, and when women are underrepresented in leadership positions, they are systematically reliant on men to help sustain them.”

Baton Rouge has seen a number of domestic violence related homicides in recent years, including the fatal shooting in 2012 of 28-year-old Raolatu Alowonle. Police records show Alowonle was in an abusive relationship with Devon T. Livous, the alleged triggerman.

Alowonle told police in April 2012, three months before she was gunned down on Ryder Drive, that Livous had attacked her and forced her to have sex with him, according to court filings. Four other women have claimed in court records that Livous was abusive to them as well.

Meeks cited a “complex interaction of factors” that could be contributing to violence against women, including easy access to firearms and a dwindling amount of resources for victims. Even the statewide domestic violence hotline has been jeopardized by a lack of funding, she said.

“We’re having a problem right now where there are so few shelter beds between Baton Rouge and Arkansas — every shelter in the state is full — that we don’t have enough places for a victim to go,” Meeks said. “They literally can’t get away from an offender who’s intent on killing them.”