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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Albuquerque resident Kyana Sanchez said a teacher last year told her that her box braids might be a health code violation. Rio Rancho resident Niara Johnson said she has been petted, as if she were an animal. These were just a few of the personal stories that a group of African-American women who have formed the Central Organizing Committee for the CROWN Act in New Mexico told NM Political Report last week. The Central Organizing Committee gathered, through an online platform, for an organizational meeting as part of the group’s planning for a bill that would address discrimination of Black hair and hairstyles. The CROWN Act, which stands for Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair, is a national effort to pass legislation in all 50 states.
New Mexico’s State Auditor is gearing up for the next step in clearing the backlog of untested sexual assault evidence kits, or rape kits, throughout the state. State Auditor Tim Keller announced Thursday his office will conduct a statewide survey of law enforcement agencies and an audit of eight police agencies to get an idea of how rape kits are tested. “We are working with law enforcement agencies and stakeholders to shine a light on what changes are needed to eliminate the backlog and keep it from happening again,” Keller said in a statement. Last year Keller’s office found that there were over 5,000 untested evidence kits around the state. A majority of these were within the Albuquerque Police Department.