January 11, 2022

Legislators, coalition seek funding to address ‘crisis’ of sexual assault

The seal of the state of New Mexico in the House

The New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs announced its support for Affirmative Consent legislation and the need for $5 million in funding on Monday.

State Rep. Liz Thomson, D-Albuquerque, is sponsoring HB 44, Affirmative Consent Policies in Schools. Alexandria Taylor, deputy director of New Mexico Sexual Assault Programs, said in a press conference the Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that New Mexico ranks seventh in the nation for sexual assault and rape based on reported crimes.

Taylor said one in four girls and one in six boys will experience sexual violence prior to their 18th birthday in New Mexico. She said two-thirds never report the crime but seek sexual assault services.

Taylor called the situation a “crisis.”

Thomson said the bill she is sponsoring, which has been introduced in previous legislative sessions, is important because it will “prevent the destruction of lives.” The legislation would establish a standard in the public schools of affirmative consent and use that to establish whether consent was given by all individuals in sexual activity.

Thomson said the legislation died in committee last year because the legislature ran out of time. Previously, she said there was some opposition because there was some opposition to discussing sexual activity in public educational settings.

A student, Isabella Thomas, from Women of Color Collective, a student group at New Mexico School for the Arts, said sexual assault is “rampant in school walls.”

“We don’t feel supported or safe,” Thomas said.

Thomas said the Women of Color Collective is holding a march on the east side of the Roundhouse at 2 p.m. Friday in Santa Fe in support of the legislation.

“There’s very little in the school system in New Mexico to prevent attacks,” she said. ”It’s not okay.”

Taylor said the $5 million in additional funding for sexual assault services is in addition to the annual $4 million the programs usually receive.

She said sexual assault in the state “requires a crisis level intervention.”

The requested allocation would include $2 million for sexual assault programs to increase services. One gap in services the $2 million would help to address is a 12-month wait list in some counties for services, Taylor said. In some rural parts of the state, a victim has to travel two to three hours to receive a sexual assault examination, Taylor said.

In addition to the $5 million, another $1 million would address sexual assault mental health programs to address that gap in services; $1.3 million to sustain satellite children advocacy centers in rural areas; $500,000 for operation of the statewide sexual assault hotline and $200,000 for Indigenous research and coordination of tribal services.

Related: New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs requests $5 million in funding

Taylor said 27 counties out of the 33 across the state lack adequate services for victims of sexual assault. Barbara Romo, Thirteenth Judicial district attorney, said the primary reason victims don’t follow through with prosecution is because they are “revictimized by the system.”

“It starts at the beginning when they don’t get resources and the support they need,” she said.

Romo said that when victims of sexual assault, child abuse or rape are unable to access services they are “still traumatized” and “wind up on the other side of the system with substance abuse issues.”

“It impacts not only the individual but the community and everyone around them. The cycle keeps continuing. I’ve been trying to emphasize that rural areas have been neglected in this state,” she said.

The New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs spoke before the Interim Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee in October requesting the $5 million in additional funding then. Taylor said on Monday that while the Legislative Finance Committee recommended sexual assault programing in the state receive $2.3 million in additional funding with $1.3 of that to be allocated for children advocacy centers.

“That leaves $1 million for sexual assault including rape crisis centers and SANE [Sexual Assault Nursing Examination],” she said.

Taylor said the additional $5 million is in the governor’s budget proposal.

Stephanie Villalobos, executive director of Valencia Shelter Services, said there is a 12-month wait list for counseling for victims of sexual assault and that between Los Lunas and Las Cruces, a distance of more than 200 miles, there is no Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner.

“We need to meet that need,” she said.

Taylor said sexual assault programs anticipate a federal funding reduction of 22 percent later this year. The additional $5 million in state funding “would allow us to maintain existing services but not expand services,” she said if that happens.

MaryEllen Garcia, grants bureau chief for the New Mexico Crime Victims Reparation Commission, spoke of how, historically, sexual assault providers are not adequately funded and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the need for staff to play numerous roles.

She said the additional funding is needed to “ensure a sustainable workforce.”