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​Sparking outrage

Group says Sen. Brown’s two arrests expose double standard in fight against violence on women

“It’s time to get people stirred up, protesting, and even mad, said Twahna Harris, a passionate domestic violence advocate. “We have to move and get people off the sidelines. We have to take to the street and protest against domestic violence! It’s going to take a movement to end this!” 

With the recent high profile murders and assaults of women by their husbands, Harris said, now is the perfect time for elected officials and the community as a whole to take deliberate stand against domestic violence and “say we will no longer allow this.”

Harris said the recent arrest of state Sen. Troy Brown (D-Geismer) gives legislators an easy opportunity to demonstrate that domestic violence will not be tolerated. “It shouldn’t matter who you are, when you commit the crime of domestic violence you should be punished.” 

Her voice is adamant and anyone who knows her can see how vigilant Harris is in her quest to end domestic violence. As executive director of the Butterfly Society, a nonprofit advocacy group, Harris has been educating groups and advocating for new domestic violence protection laws for nearly 20 years. 

“When you, as a leader, aren’t walking the walk that you talk you have to be held accountable,” Harris said. “It is unacceptable when we allow our leaders to get away with what we’ve allowed Sen. Brown to get away with. He should be held to the same standards. As voters we have to be very clear that we are not going to stand for it.”

The Butterfly Society has taken the message of accountability across south Louisiana into barbershops, churches, policy meetings, and candidate forums. They educate and support victims in escaping abusive relationships. The group has established memorial gardens as a place to remember victims in the downtowns of Baton Rouge, Zachary, New Roads, and Baker.

“We want to make sure that the victims are never forgotten,” she said. “We want to speak their names. These gardens can be a way to begin the conversation in communities.” 

In 2014 and 2015, Louisiana ranked 4th in the nation for domestic violence. “We can do better,” Harris said. “Women are dying at an alarming rate.”

“Domestic violence is a dark and lonely place to be,” Harris said. “I’ve learned that what we go through isn’t always just for us, it is to prevent and empower others.” The Butterfly Society was established as a nonprofit in 2014 after decades of advocacy and partnership-building. “We believe in being reached. We want people to know that we are here for you, to support you, and to empower you. There is life after domestic violence. You can live and survive.”

Harris said the message of support is clear, however, her concern is “as long as we continue to do business as usual and not punish attackers, we will continue to lose our families.”

“These lives are too valuable for us to continue to lose through domestic fights when we can get them the help they need to escape,” said Jane Yellow, a 26-year domestic violence survivor and author of It Only Happened Once. Yellow was attacked and left for dead by her husband of 11 months who served less than two years in prison for battery. “Policies have to continue changing,” she said. “Laws have to be enforceable. Abusers must be severely punished for this to stop… There has to be justice.”

One solution is to have men on the front line, said Harris.

“We need men standing up and saying, ‘No longer will I take another woman, sister, mother, cousin, teacher, or friend being abused at the hand of someone who is supposed to love her’,” said Harris. 

The Butterfly Society educates church leaders and pastors — who are often men — on how to have conversations with other men on how to treat women during times of anger. The group also reminds the men that one in four men are abused by their partner. Their conversations at local barbaershops  allowed the volunteers and men to be open. “The dialogue was so powerful,” Harris said. “Men are willing to commit to take a stand.”

The Butterfly Society will host its annual Painting the City Purple, a weeklong observance to raise awareness of domestic violence for youth, men, and women Oct 3 – 7 in Baton Rouge.

By Candace J. Semien
Jozef Syndicate reporter

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