Ada Nelson Berard’s death puts the number of women killed in Iberia Parish due to domestic violence at 14 since 2003.

Her death on Dec. 22, which authorities allege was at the hand of her husband, is a reflection a violent culture that continues to damage families and disrupt lives, say members of the community who spoke at a rally Saturday afternoon in response to Berard’s death and a widespread abuse “epidemic.”

More than 50 people gathered at the Steamboat Warehouse Pavilion for the first Survivor Rally to End the Culture of Violence

“Domestic violence doesn’t have a face. It does not have a skin color or a religion and economic status does not matter,” said event coordinator Joseph Battle, who is also Berard’s cousin. “The purpose of this event today is to uplift, encourage and inspire despite the tragedies that we may have endured at one point in our lives.”

Violence that goes on inside homes is often a “generational curse,” Battle said, as it can carry from abusive fathers and mothers.

In 2011 local shelter Safety Net for Abused Persons received 1,937 crisis calls from Iberia Parish abuse victims, SNAP’s executive director Carol Mumm, said.

Losing victims to domestic violence, such as Berard, is a tremendous blow for the shelter, Mumm said.

“Fourteen women murdered ... They were murdered, slaughtered by that person that said ‘I love you.’ That is not right,” she said Saturday.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent cuts to programs funding shelters and domestic abuse programs is expected to impact the local shelter, Mumm said.

To deal with the decrease in state funding that organization plans to rearrange its budget, rather than reducing its staff, she added.

During Saturday’s rally several women and men shared personal accounts of enduring abuse either from a partner or a parent.

Keija Bryant of New Iberia said she entered into a relationship with a man in 2004 that eventually escalated into physical and emotional abuse.

Early on in the courtship, she said she saw no signs of a man capable of violence.

But as time went on “true colors” of a jealous man began to show and his aggressive behavior grew more extreme.

After several failed attempts, she said, she finally mustered up the strength to walk away from the relationship. Because of that she is stronger, she said.

“Since I survived that, I know I can survive anything,” she told the crowd Saturday.

Bryant said people enmeshed in abusive relationships often think “outsiders” don’t understand what they are going through.

“But you aren’t as alone as you think,” Bryant said.

When it comes to teaching how to have respectful relationships, fathers play a particularly important role for their sons and daughters, said Tony Migues, SNAP’s Board of Directors president.

Also director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, he said he also spoke on behalf of Mayor Hilda Curry’s office Saturday.

“Domestic abuse is an epidemic today in Iberia Parish and the city of New Iberia,” Migues said. “We need to start teaching our youngsters about domestic violence and healthy relationships.”

Last year Migues said he took his 12-year-old daughter on a “date” to show her how gentlemen should behave.

“I picked her up, I opened the car door for her. When I took her to dinner I pulled out the chair,” he said. “After we got back, I said to her ‘You will not accept anything less than I just showed you. You have to respect yourself or they are not going to respect you.’ ”

Several speakers, including Battle, directed their messages to the young men at Saturday’s rally. It is they who will change the course of the way people treat one another, Nathaniel Mitchell, diversion program specialist with the 16th Judicial District said.

“You represent a whole class of young people who are saying ‘You know what? Enough is enough.’ That’s so important,” Mitchell told them.

As a mother grieving the loss of her daughter to violence, Patricia Ann Nelson said her greatest hope is that Berard’s death will alert others who feel trapped by abuse.

“My daughter is smiling right now,” she tearfully told the crowd. “But let this be an example to everybody. Please get out. Love your children and love God. But please, get out.”

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