To mark the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act, the executive director of the New Orleans Family Justice Center, Mary Claire Landry, was honored by Vice President Joe Biden on Sept. 13 at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
Landry was honored for reducing the number of incidents of family violence, child abuse, sexual assault and stalking in New Orleans through effective prevention and coordinated response.
As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1990, Biden introduced VAWA, which later was signed into law by President Clinton. The law made domestic abuse an enforceable offense.
Before the New Orleans Family Justice Center’s founding, the city experienced more than 20 domestic-violence murders per year. Today, that number has fallen to fewer than five. The center’s comprehensive, client-centered, empowerment approach has successfully kept survivors safe and held abusers accountable.
“Fewer are being killed by their spouses because women have the ability to leave their situations,” Landry said.
“Mary Claire Landry’s leadership has created one of the shining beacons of hope and healing in New Orleans. Her tireless determination to improve the system and relentless commitment to survivors and their children has changed the world for so many hurting families,” said Casey Gwinn, president of the National Family Justice Center Alliance.
Landry was executive director of Crescent House, the New Orleans Archdiocese’s women’s shelter, before Hurricane Katrina. When the Carrollton Avenue buildings were destroyed, Landry called on Mary Beth Buchanan, acting director of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women. Landry knew about the Family Justice model program in San Diego and believed a system of comprehensive services was exactly what New Orleans needed.
Buchanan told her to prepare a two-page proposal right then and there, and the Department of Justice awarded $3 million to establish the New Orleans Family Justice Center.
While Crescent House served 200 women per year, the center provides assistance to more than 1,600 annually, Landry said.
“Our post-Katrina journey is amazing, and we are doing life-changing work,” Landry said.
Eight agencies formed a partnership to coordinate and consolidate legal, law enforcement, social and health care services under one roof. Before the center’s opening, survivors of domestic violence might have to travel to five to 10 places to find safety.
“Women get killed when they’re in the gaps,” Landry said. Now, they can go to one place and get multiple levels of support.
Recently, Landry has been fielding calls about Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who punched his fiancée, Janay Palmer, knocking her unconscious. Palmer married Rice the next day regardless, igniting a firestorm of controversy when the incident became known.
“The NFL started a national conversation, but it’s not limited to the NFL. She (Palmer) was put on a podium to apologize. She got the message it was her fault,” Landry said. “We give survivors all the wrong messages.”
Those in need of assistance can call the crisis line toll-free at (888) 411-1333, she said.
The New Orleans Family Justice Alliance is holding a fundraising event, “Unmasking Domestic Violence,” at Generations Hall on Friday, Oct. 17. For information, visit nofjc.org/events or call (504) 592-4005.