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1 in 5 Louisiana Residents Have Been Threatened or Harmed by Guns

The state has the nation’s highest rate of gun violence per capita. Residents experience more gun violence than even those living in California, and a survey found that more than half of residents have experienced physical violence.

On the day after Christmas 2013, Charmaine Caccioppi got a call from her friend about another close friend: Susan "Pixie" Gouaux.

Childhood classmates, the Lafourche Parish, La., women traveled in the same social circles as adults — Caccioppi an executive at United Way of Southeast Louisiana, Gouaux an educator and councilman's wife.

But now Gouaux was dead, her arms blown off with gunfire as she tried to defend herself and her family from their former son-in-law, in what became a domestic triple murder-suicide.

"It was devastating. I don't think a single person in our community didn't feel personally touched by this tremendous loss," said Caccioppi, who has since made ending violence in Louisiana, the state with the nation's highest rate of gun violence per capita, her life's mission.

The toll that Caccioppi describes came into focus this week, in the first statewide survey of its kind in Louisiana, published by Tulane University.

Though the numbers are stark — more than half of Louisianans have experienced physical violence, and 1 in 5 has been threatened or harmed with a gun, it found — their potential impact on policy is promising, Caccioppi said.

"We need to build robust collaborations with professionals, study the cause and effect, and understand where to make the greatest investment to ensure we can stop this escalation in violence," she said.

United Way of Southeast Louisiana has backed the passage of almost 140 statutes to prevent domestic violence and protect victims and their families.

On Wednesday, Anita Raj, who spearheaded the survey, will present her findings at a meeting of the Louisiana Women's Policy and Research Commission in Baton Rouge.

As the newly appointed director of the Newcomb Institute at Tulane University and a Mississippi native, Raj made gender-based violence her focus in moving back to New Orleans from the University of California San Diego. There, the Center on Gender Equity and Health led the annual California Study on Violence Experiences across the Lifespan survey since 2020.

Though California's statewide 2023 data isn't complete yet, it's already clear that Louisianans experience more gun violence than those in the Golden State.

Raj worked with a University of Chicago firm to survey more than 1,000 Louisiana residents about their experiences with violence in May and June. Some detailed those experiences in comments for the project, the Louisiana Violence Experiences Survey.

"Being beaten for having bad grades on my report card," a 19-year-old woman responded.

"My second husband dragged me threw (sic) the yard and broke my back," a 39-year-old woman said.

"Victim of the knockout game ... hit me in the back of the head as I passed him on the street and then ran off," a 70-year-old man reported.

For men, the survey found, physical violence is most likely to happen from a stranger in public spaces. For women, it happens in their own homes, from a partner.

Nine in 10 people who experience violence never report it to authorities, and sexual violence is so pervasive it's practically a universal experience for Louisianans, Raj said.

Raj also expressed concern over the impact of climate change, and the record heat that prompted a state of emergency Monday by Gov. John Bel Edwards.

"Heat, power outages — these kinds of climate-affected events can have an important impact on kinds of violence we see," she said.

Caccioppi said Louisiana has a long way to go when it comes to combating violence using sophisticated data. She viewed the survey as a good start.

"We can't cease to talk about this," Caccioppi said. "Our inability to solve this will hamper us on a number of levels, including the economic health of our region and state."

(c)2023 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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