By Christine Bordelon, Clarion Herald
Project SAVE (Stopping Abuse through Victim Empowerment), a ministry of Archdiocese of New Orleans’ Catholic Charities for the past 25 years, helps abuse victims in Orleans Parish by offering free legal services with no income requirement.
Attorney Allyson Tuttle, program director, says two staff attorneys represent approximately 175 females (and a few males) annually in civil district court to obtain restraining orders and protective orders. Project SAVE’s website states that in 2017, “26 percent of all Orleans Parish domestic violence protective orders were obtained through Project SAVE’s two attorneys.”
“We are the emergency room to get people interim protection to get them back on their feet,” Tuttle said.
In court, “a judge can order the abuser to stay away from the victim and … grant (the victim) temporary use of the house, custody of the children and temporary child support – to help victims stay out of an abusive situation,” she said.
Victims are women, men
Tuttle and her staff work closely and compassionately with victims, who range in age from 20 to 40.
“Sometimes people come to us, and we are the first people they have opened up to about the abuse,” she said. “We are able to form that special bond with them. … We are their attorney giving them legal advice, but there is an emotional component to it. … By having an attorney with you in court, you automatically feel like you are given a voice, that someone will speak up for you and give you reassurance.”
An important fact to know about Project SAVE is that there are no income guidelines, so anyone can access its services. The majority of Project SAVE’s clients are on the lower end of the financial spectrum, Tuttle said.
“Part of domestic abuse is, sometimes, the abuser controls the money in the household,” she said. “We don’t want people not being able (to protect themselves) because they don’t have the money.”
A past client and domestic abuse survivor named Olga, originally from Ukraine, is a perfect example of those helped by Project SAVE. She said she’s doing fine now, but she was in an abusive relationship with the father of her child, who had attacked her.
She said she was isolated and threatened, and Project Save helped her regain control of her life and brought her safety.
“I was really scared and didn’t know what to do,” Olga said. “I didn’t go to the police because he threatened me with violence. Then he left the city and made another threat on the phone.
“I had to protect myself and my child, and I searched online and found Project SAVE. The counselor there helped me apply for a restraining order and walked me through how to file the papers with the courts. The lawyer from Project SAVE help me get restraining order and was very understanding. … Having her with me calmed me down and made me feel more comfortable.”
Olga also was represented in a custody hearing for her child and “got full custody. … It was really great. I feel more confident having everything in place in court. Many who go through abuse are afraid and don’t go to court because they are afraid the court may take their child, especially if they are not independent financially. But they should not be afraid.”
Olga said Project SAVE can help victims break “the cycle of abuse forever.”
“Personalities of abusers tend to haunt you,” she said. “You have to get everything in court to make it official. … Thanks to Project SAVE and the Family Justice Center, I was able to get a counselor and learn how not to be shy and ask for help.”
Olga said she’s since earned a master’s degree in journalism.
“Me and the baby (now almost age 2) have accomplished so much,” she said.
Closely aligned to other Catholic Charity services
Tuttle said since Project SAVE is part of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans, clients can get referrals to other services such as counseling, social needs and other attorneys to handle divorce and permanent custody proceedings. Olga said she received three months of counseling she needed to learn why she was vulnerable to being abused.
“We have a close network with other agencies we refer people to if they need these services,” she said. “We hear that we have really made a difference in their lives,” Tuttle said. “It is a rewarding experience.”
For help, call Project SAVE at 301-6872 or the Louisiana state emergency hotline at 1 (800) 411-1333.
Christine Bordelon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.