ASCENSION PARISH, LA (WAFB) - Legal and domestic violence experts are urging women who may be involved in abusive relationships to come up with a plan to protect themselves and their children.
The violent scene that unfolded in a quiet Geismar neighborhood has left people in Ascension Parish in shock and disbelief. Just hours after celebrating her son's graduation party, detectives said they found Monica Butler Johnson, 45, beaten to death in her own backyard. The suspect, her estranged husband, David Johnson was arrested for her murder after what authorities described as an ongoing domestic violence battle.
The 23rd Judicial District Attorney's Office reports Monica was working with prosecutors to protect herself from her estranged husband and had a restraining order against him. David was charged with domestic abuse strangulation last December. But according to the DA's office, Monica did not want to pursue those charges so they were dropped.
Special prosecutor of domestic abuse for the 19th Judicial District, Melanie Fields, said it is not uncommon for victims to retreat once court proceedings are set. She said restraining orders can be tricky.
"They are issued without a hearing, then they are served on the offender. That will often escalate to that violence. So victims are counseled that they could be a precursor to escalating violence," Fields said.
She said those victims are advised to start putting away money, stashing important documents like birth certificates and social security cards, and deciding where to go if they need to leave.
"It's not just relocating. It's asking for help, letting family members know they need safe words so they can call and let someone know that the violence is escalating," Fields said.
Lynne Medley-Long, the Executive Director of the Iris Domestic Violence Center, said when women arrive, her staff first makes sure they are safe. Her team offers comfort, legal advice, and helps them find more permanent housing. Long discourages victims from contacting police.
"Because of the stigma associated with them, and the accountability that might now has to be faced by the perpetrator, that could escalate harm to the victim," Long said.
She added new laws created in the last two years have helped those victims. However, she said the community church leaders, schools, and doctors need to step in and learn to identify signs of domestic abuse so they can help guide victims on a path to recovery.
"It requires a community response. We all have to be actively engaged," Long said.
Long is putting together a community response team.
There are also many resources available to victims of domestic violence, to help them get out of an abusive situation and navigate challenges after.
For help, contact one of these organizations:
- Iris Domestic Violence Center, www.stopdv.org, (225) 389-3001 or 1 (800) 541-9706
- Life Family Outreach, (225) 772-2441
- STAR Center, www.brstar.org, (225) 383-RAPE