‘One Community, One Voice’: Connecting crime victims with resources and support services
ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - In honor of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, the Louisiana Victim Outreach Program partnered with the Rapides Parish District Attorney’s Office to host a community outreach event for crime victims in Central Louisiana.
For many, falling victim to a crime or being the family member of a crime victim is unexpected. Sometimes, those who are affected may not know where to turn. That is where local and state support services often step in, and the outreach event was intended to inform, empower and equip crime victims and survivors.
All types of support services were represented, from non-profits like the United Way of Central Louisiana, to health agencies like LDH, as well as legal experts for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
“The main thing that most people probably don’t understand about our area, and as it concerns domestic violence, current statistics are still as they stand, so it’s one in three. One in three women, and one in three men. That’s a lot of people in our area,” explained Beth Ponthier, project manager for the Family Justice Center of Central Louisiana.
The Family Justice Center works to provide resources to help those victims out of those situations by providing legal help like divorce and custody filings, counseling, financial help and emergency support. They also hope to remove the fear and shame stigma often associated with domestic violence and sexual assault.
“We’ve really tried to push in all nine parishes, but especially in the more rural areas, who we are to the community and that we are here,” said Ponthier. “We want to provide these services. You don’t have to call the police. You don’t have to have a previous restraining order. We just want to help.”
Many of those who attended were the family members of murder victims, who are often far too familiar with the ins and outs of the criminal justice system. One of those people, Stephanie Belgard, lost her daughter, Courtney Coco, in 2004 when she was killed and her body was found in Winnie, Texas. The family waited two decades for a conviction, which came down in October 2022.
“I just got really proactive after her murder because for so many years it was unsolved,” said Belgard. “So, I got involved with helping other people, and helping other people helps me to heal.”
Her group, Families of Murder Victims, is the way she does just that.
“As far as I know, I am the only support group that they have for people affected by murder,” explained Belgard. “Sometimes we just talk. And I think a lot of times just people talking and saying their loved one’s name and being able to tell their loved one’s story is healing to them.”
Though Belgard tries to fill the gap in some way, she believes there need to be more counseling services for those affected by murder. Her support group meets every second Thursday of every month at the Westside Regional Library.
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