What the Violence Against Women Act doesn’t do

The 2022 federal reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act has been hailed as good news, but there are problems it doesn’t solve. President Joe Biden signed VAWA reauthorization earlier this spring. The last time U.S. Congress reauthorized it was in 2013. It is supposed to be reauthorized every five years. It provides millions of dollars to every state to help fund services to victims of gender-based violence.

New Mexico’s legal desert affects victims of violence

While the federal reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act will ensure services for victims for several more years, victims will likely still struggle due to New Mexico’s “legal desert.”

VAWA] provides funding to state and local programming and agencies to help those who suffer gender-based violence. The U.S. Congress last reauthorized it in 2013. President Joe Biden signed the 2022 reauthorization this spring and it is expected to help with issues such as sex trafficking, missing and murdered Indigenous women and relatives, sexual assault and housing and it expands programming to include the LGBTQIA+ community. Related: What the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization means for the LGBTQ community

New Mexico ranks as seventh in the nation for the rate of sexual assault. Alexandria Taylor, director of Sexual Assault Services at the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, said one factor in what she has called a “crisis” is New Mexico’s legal desert. The majority of victims don’t report but for those who do, Taylor told NM Political Report that 93 percent of the cases are dismissed.

What the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization means for the LGBTQ community 

Expansions in the Violence Against Women Act, signed by President Joe Biden this spring, recognize the LGBTQ community for the first time. Initially enacted in 1994, VAWA improves responses to gender-based violence through federal dollars to various state and local programs and agencies, including the courts. Congress last reauthorized the legislation in 2013. This spring, Biden signed the 2022 reauthorization, which is expected to help with such issues as sex trafficking, missing and murdered Indigenous women and relatives, sexual assault and housing and it expands programming to include the LGBTQ community for the first time. Marshall Martinez, executive director of Equality New Mexico, called the inclusion in VAWA funding “a big victory.”

“The first thing that is important to know is this is the first time LGBTQ folks specifically are included in VAWA.

With limited funding, New Mexico sexual assault programming looks ahead 

With federal funding cuts expected by the next fiscal year, New Mexico sexual assault programming is considering how the shortage could impact the future. The New Mexico Crime Victims Reparation Commission receives $4 million in recurring funding from the state to provide money to local sexual assault services. This year, the commission and the New Mexico Coalition for Sexual Assault Programs asked for $5 million in additional funding from the Legislature to fill gaps in services, improve salaries and prepare for the anticipated loss in federal dollars. But, the coalition did not receive all the money it asked for from the New Mexico legislature. In addition to the recurring $4 million, the legislature appropriated about $3.8 million in funding.

Funding for sexual assault programs passes during legislative session

With relatively few reproductive healthcare bills before the 2022 legislative session, only one made it through intact. HB 32, sponsored by state Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, which eliminates gross receipts tax, sometimes referred to as a sales tax, on feminine hygiene products, was grafted into HB 2, the general appropriation bill. The elimination of the GRT effectively, in layman’s terms, eliminates any sales tax to the products, which Trujillo sees in broader terms of civic engagement and political access. Trujillo said she wants to see poor and young girls to “start becoming more empowered and maybe this bill will help.”

“I want young girls to recognize that if they have that need for those necessities, they should not be shy about asking for them, and also start getting involved and engaged,” she told NM Political Report. The bill unanimously passed the House Health and Human Services Committee but the House Taxation and Revenue Committee tabled the bill.  The House Taxation and Revenue Committee later amended a tax changes bill, HB 163, sponsored by Christine Chandler, D-Albuquerque, to include tax deductions for gross receipts tax for feminine hygiene products.

Sexual assault nurse examiner shortage impacts victims and families

When the sun comes up, a sexual assault nurse examiner could be coming home from investigating a case after getting a call in the early hours of the morning. Autumn Skinner, a Portales-based sexual assault nurse examiner, has had to drive outside of the seven-county region she serves due to a lack of sexual assault nurse examiners [known as SANEs] in rural areas across the state. She has had to drive three hours one way to examine a victim and she has had to ask victims to meet her at a hospital halfway due to the distance. “I’ve gone out to Union County in the middle of the night and not come home until the sun comes up,” she said. Some programs in the state lack the means to offer on-call SANE care for victims, she said.

Senate committee passes bill to fully fund sexual assault services

By a vote of 7-0, the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee unanimously passed SB 197, which, if passed and signed by the governor, would provide the full $5 million request for sexual assault services across the state which advocates have said is crucial. State Sen. Siah Correa Hemphill, D-Silver City, is sponsoring SB 197. State Sen. Antoinette Sedillo-Lopez, D-Albuquerque, is a co-sponsor and spoke during the committee hearing about the importance of the request because some federal funding for sexual assault services is expected to no longer be available as of Fiscal Year 2023. Alexandria Taylor, director of Sexual Assault Services for the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, said that HB 2, the General Appropriations Act of 2022, provides $2.6 million to New Mexico Crime Victim Reparation Commission. “We’re asking for the remaining $2.4 million to be put in,” Taylor said of SB 197.

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

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.

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

During an interim committee hearing, the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs asked for $5 million to be added for state budget consideration in the 2022 Legislature. Alexandria Taylor, deputy director of the coalition, said the state ranks seventh in the nation in rates of sexual violence and called the rates of sexual violence in New Mexico an “epidemic.” She asked that any crime package “prioritize” the crime of sexual violence. The $5 million request includes $2 million for sexual assault programs to increase services, address gaps across the state and focus on rural and underserved areas, including a 12-month wait list in some counties for services; $1 million to 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, Taylor said. She said 41 percent of reported assaults in New Mexico are children who are under the age of 18. She also said that while reports of sexual violence to law enforcement are trending downward, there has been an increase in requests for sexual assault services.

A bill to hold peace officers accountable for sexual crimes passes first committee

A bill that advocates said would increase accountability of peace officers who commit sexual crimes against people in their custody passed its first hurdle Tuesday. The House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee passed HB 156 along party lines with a 3 to 2 vote. House Rep. Brittany Barreras, an independent from Albuquerque who caucuses with Democrats, is sponsoring the bill. Barreras introduced the bill with a personal story about winding up in the hospital due to an officer’s arrest. The bill will, if it passes, amend the criminal code that governs criminal sexual penetration in the second degree.