Film By: UNO student and documentarian Shelby Chifici
Editor’s Note: NolaVie partners with students of UNO professor László Zsolt Fülöp, pairing them with artists, non-profits, environmental groups, and cultural entities to facilitate a live curriculum that results in a short documentary. Shelby Chifici, who directed this film, interviews Mary Claire Landry, founder and executive director of the New Orleans Family Justice Center. The New Orleans Family Justice Center provides resources to survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault. If you or a loved one need help or have questions, call the NOFJC at 504-592-4005. 24 hour crisis line: 504-866-9554.
[Read the full transcript of the interview below]
My name is Mary Claire Landry. I’m the executive director of the New Orleans Family Justice Center. The New Orleans Family Justice Center is a co-location of all the service providers in one location so that we can provide an integrated response to domestic violence and sexual assault.
We have domestic violence advocates; we have civil legal attorneys; we have the New Orleans Police Department; we have a health clinic on site. We also do forensic exams for sexual assault victims as well as domestic violence injuries. And in addition to all of that, we also provide a whole range of housing services, civil legal services, just everything that we think a survivor may need as she’s navigating or he’s navigating through a crisis situation related to domestic violence or sexual assault.
The whole goal is to make it as easy as possible for victims to be able to access a wide range of services.
What we know for sure is that all domestic violence is sexual assault; at the core of those issues is the power and control dynamic. So we still have to continue doing this; we have to continue holding powerful and rich people accountable and not let them abuse the system and be above the law.
Part of [problem] is the majority of sexual assault victims are young women, primarily in a college age, so I think there’s a lot of embarrassment and shame around that, and I think people are very naive about how difficult it is to report a sexual assault — these cases can go on for years, and often times victims just want to put it behind them and try to move on and not be impacted by it.
I think the fact that in order to prosecute a sexual assault you have to go through a very intimate and difficult sexual assault examination, which is not pleasant in any case and it just amazes me that police officers and other people say, “well she’s just lying or she’s just trying to get the other person in trouble.”
I think anyone who understood what that examination is like would clearly know that this person is not going through this just to get back at someone. I mean the reality is: many of these cases are not able to be prosecuted. It’s shameful the number of actual prosecutions we have for sexual assault, and then I think just the processing of the sexual assault [is one] fact why so many of them sit on a shelf and are not processed. It’s just a very difficult crime to prove, and then if you are willing to go through that whole process — you know to be triggered for two or three years while they’re trying to prosecute the case — that’s very difficult to ask someone to go through.
In cases where there’s been a prosecution and there’s been justice, often times survivors think that that’s gonna really make them feel better, but the reality is that justice is within themselves. As the founder and creator of the Family Justice Center, I would love for it to continue to stay focused and prioritize our mission, which is to be here for survivors and to always advocate on their behalf.
I think our legacy has been that we have been here for survivors; we serve so many survivors in this community, and so many have felt that they have gotten their voices back — that they have gotten their lives back, and that we have really provided them with the resources to heal and to address the trauma that they have experienced.
The important thing is that we’re providing hope and healing for survivors. And that’s what I want the legacy to be of
the New Orleans Family Justice Center. Now you can move forward and you can heal. We have relied so much in the domestic violence and sexual assault world on the criminal justice system to resolve all these issues, but the reality is it’s [also] about healing and giving people hope for their future.