ByEd Williams and Rachel Needham, Searchlight New Mexico |
Kinsey Moores steeled her nerves and tried to appear unruffled as she worked intake at Albuquerque’s S.A.F.E House this week. Picking up a pair of gloves from a dwindling supply of donated PPE (personal protective equipment), she reached for a thermometer and asked the now-routine question asked of every person seeking help at the city’s largest domestic violence shelter.
“Have you experienced any kind of dry cough or fever?”
“I just have to keep a smile on my face and show that we’re here to help, we’re not going to turn anybody away,” said Moores, 22, who started her job last August after graduating from the Child and Family Studies program at the University of New Mexico. “One of the hardest things is just coming in to work with a mindset that everything is going to be OK, we’re going to get through this.”
Across New Mexico, domestic violence survivors and the shelters that serve them are confronting a new and uncertain landscape brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Stay-at-home orders have effectively kept victims inside with their abusers, depriving them of a safe time and place to call for help. It couldn’t have come at a more ominous time.
With the latest order from the governor’s office asking all New Mexicans to stay home except for issues of health and safety – like grocery shopping or going to a doctor – victims of domestic violence may be stuck in their homes, too, with their abusers. “This is probably an abuser’s dream,” said Jessica Fierro, a victim advocacy unit director for the Domestic Violence Resource Center in Albuquerque. “It’s the perfect recipe for a nightmare.”
The Centers for Disease Control list unemployment and social isolation, both consequences of efforts to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, as risk factors for violence. “Things are very scary and unsure and uncertain, and that just puts even more stress on our victims of domestic violence and on the offenders,” Fierro said.
Most organizations are adapting to reach clients and meet the needs of domestic violence victims.
The DVRC is strengthening its telecommunications services, Fierro said, to help as many people as it can after shutting down its face-to-face operations.
The DVRC’s 24/7 hotline automatically transfers to one of its employees working from home. That person can then direct the caller to the service or staff member that can best help them.
Once a caller connects through the main office, a staff member will connect the caller with an advocate who can help the caller over the phone, so no person-to-person contact is needed.
“If they just want to talk to somebody and maybe just vent, we’re there for that as well,” Fierro said.
A bill to appropriate $2 million to improve an aging shelter for victims of domestic violence passed 5-0 in the Senate Public Affairs Committee late Friday. SB 229, sponsored by Senators Antoinette Sedillo Lopez and Linda Lopez, both Democrats from Albuquerque, would provide the money from the general fund to the Department of Finance and Administration for the city of Albuquerque so the city could contract with S.A.F.E. House for significant renovations on its shelter. According to a statement provided by Katherine Croaciata, the expert witness and executive officer of Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association, the money would upgrade the plumbing, heating and air conditioning and the electrical wiring, and close off the interior to create two private living areas instead of having one space separated by a curtain. There would also be two separate entrances instead of one and two separate and private bathrooms.
The facility is more than 100 years old and served 442 adults and more than 300 children from 2018 to 2019, according to the statement. “The victims are recovering from horrible situations,” Croaciata said during the committee meeting.
Eager for change, a new organization called the New Mexico Indigenous Women’s Resource Council symbolically tied a ribbon Saturday in Gallup to launch a group dedicated to advocacy and helping people who are marginalized within indigenous communities. The council’s board president, Sonlatsa Jim-Martin, Navajo-Modoc, said the group will focus on women and girls in indigenous communities who experience domestic violence, helping indigenous people who are LGBTQ, and working on causes such as missing and murdered indigenous women. Jim-Martin said the number of missing and murdered women and girls from indigenous communities is alarming. She said the problem is worse than the numbers officially reported. “We know we can say it’s happening every day,” Jim-Martin told NM Political Report.
July 17 is the best of days in the Gaytan household, because it marks the birthday of 12-year-old Ian, who lives with his grandparents in a doublewide mobile home on a dirt road in Española. And July 17 is the worst of days, because it marks the anniversary of the shooting death of his 20-year-old mother, Jasmine Gaytan, at the hands of his father, Leroy Fresquez, Jr.
It has been left to Olga Gaytan, a 55-year-old immigrant from Guanajuato, Mexico, to make sense of the contradictions. “People say I’m his grandma, but I always say ‘No, I’m his mother,’” said Gaytan, who stepped in and adopted her grandson following the 2009 murder of her daughter. Jasmine and Leroy had known each other ever since their days at Carlos F. Vigil Middle School, the same school Ian now attends. It is the school where the two of them met, and the school from which they both dropped out in seventh grade.
Organizations that provide shelter, advocacy and support for survivors of intimate partner violence, stalking and sexual assault will start losing money later this week because of both the government shutdown and because Congress let the Violence Against Women Act lapse over a month ago. Nearly 35 local agencies provide care in New Mexico, and each and every one receives federal money. Most of the services are funded by a combination of direct federal, state and local grants. The Department of Justice (DOJ), for example, provides grants, either directly or as part of the New Mexico Crime Victims Reparation Commission (CVRC). New Mexico operations will continue normally until Jan.
In 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice declined to prosecute more than a third of cases referred to them in Indian Country. That’s business as usual according to a new report by the department. The report reveals that U.S. attorneys’ offices left 37 percent of referred cases from Indian Country unprosecuted in 2017 — a figure slightly up from 2016 and steady with data since 2011, after then-President Barack Obama signed the Tribal Law and Order Act into law. The percentage continues to plateau despite funding for tribal law enforcement from the Trump administration. Lawmakers like Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., see the department’s prosecution rate as failing members of federally recognized tribes.
One of the biggest winners in the just concluded 60-day session of the New Mexico Legislature was a man who never set foot in the Roundhouse and, in fact, never came close to crossing the state border. His name is Donald J. Trump, the president of the United States. Republican Trump lost New Mexico in November by 8 percentage points, and Democrats control both the state Senate and House of Representatives. Even so, several pieces of legislation aimed at Trump failed to get traction in the Legislature. Senate Bill 118, sponsored by Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, would have required presidential candidates to disclose five years of personal income taxes to get on the general election ballot in New Mexico.
A bill that advocates say will keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers is headed to Gov. Susana Martinez’s desk. The state House of Representatives voted 43-22 on Wednesday to pass Senate Bill 259, which would require people under domestic violence restraining orders to relinquish their firearms.
The Senate concurred with the House’s changes Thursday. Groups such as New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence argued that the bill is a common-sense measure that will protect victims of domestic violence. But several Republicans on the House floor countered that the bill was flawed and would clog up state courts. Related: Senate OKs ban on openly carrying firearms in Capitol
The bill would only apply once a judge has issued a final order following a hearing.
Timothy Jason Martinez hasn’t just been arrested for sexual assault of a child, but also two violent assault charges. Earlier this year, Denver police booked the now former Albuquerque Public Schools deputy superintendent on two assault charges, both involving men. “The allegation is that on Jan. 25 he was involved in altercation with person he had an intimate relationship with,” said Denver District Attorney spokeswoman Lynn Kimbrough. One of the allegations from the police report says Martinez struck a person with the side mirror of a car. Police issued a warrant for Martinez on Feb.