New Orleans, La. – In 2009, St. Bernard Parish resident Elizabeth Richardson was the victim of extreme violence. She feels blessed to be alive, though she still grieves for her daughter, India Mahoney, who did not survive.
"He came in at 5:30 in the morning and he shot me in the face three times and my 18-year-old daughter was killed that morning, point blank," Richardson says. "And then this man left the house and locked the door and ran off like nothing happened."
The perpetrator of this crime, who is now in prison, was Elizabeth's own husband. Though the attack was a shock, with hindsight she says, there were signs that serious trouble was brewing in her home. In fact, she had even sought help before at the St. Bernard Battered Women's Program.
"I met with them and they explained to be about being a battered woman. And I'm like, I don't fit that, you know. But I fit it, and I fit it very well but I didn't believe it, because I didn't want to see myself as a victim," she says.
That's just one of the challenges to addressing this incredibly personal, often complex issue. But for those in need, the nonprofit St. Bernard Battered Women's Program offers resources from legal consulting to financial assistance to physical shelter. It's aimed at helping women make the best decisions for themselves, whether they're suffering from emotional abuse or in danger of domestic homicide, as in Elizabeth's case.
"A lot of times when women do come into shelter, they start at different points, they enter the shelter at different points of their life," says executive director Gail Gowland. "Some of them will hit the streets running, they'll know, okay, I have to get a job, I have to get an income in order to move myself on and my family on. But some other women come, it might take them one or two weeks to even get to that point."
Though the shelter is based in St. Bernard, its services are available to anyone in need, serving women and children from across the region. Lately, the numbers of those in need have been on the rise, which Gowland attributes in part to woes ranging from recent hurricanes to the economy to the BP oil spill. These have all upped the stress levels in many households, leading to arguments and worse.
"And those arguments are escalating, to where before they might just have been pushed under the rug or something like that. But they are escalating to the point where women and children are seeking help to get out of their situations," she says.
That's why even though it's a painful, Elizabeth is committed to sharing her story, speaking out to let others who may be suffering in silence know that resources like the St. Bernard Battered Women's Program are available to help them.
"After this happened to me I found out that several of my very, very close friends were battered women," Richardson says. "And they had been living with batterers and these were the people that we sat down to the barbecue with and had fun with and went to games with. And when this happened, you know, suddenly it's like the covers are off."
Learn more about the St. Bernard Battered Women's Program online or by calling 504-277-3177.