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Second in a two-part series
Opened in 1992, the Crisis Center of Northern New Mexico is an Española-based facility with 18 beds, which vary in vacancy throughout the year, according to the center’s assistant Director Ramon Garcia.
“If we have no vacancies, we can usually find them a place and resources to help them,” Garcia said.
One interesting fact Garcia noted was that most women seeking shelter from abuse have little in terms of financial resources. The center’s services are free. The center relies on state and federal support as well as private donations.
“We see more of the low-income victims of domestic violence because they are the ones that need help finding shelter,” Garcia said. “Victims with a higher income will just go find someplace else, perhaps a hotel room. Higher income individuals will also seek private therapy for help in overcoming their issues.”
Garcia said the Crisis Center provides emergency shelter for up to 90 days. The introduction to the center is similar to how the perpetrators are introduced to the center, Garcia said.
There is an assessment of each victim to determine what level of care they need.
“We may set certain goals for them, like finding a job, seeking a permanent place to stay, even help with divorce or separation from their abuser,” Garcia said.
“According to statistics, an abuse victim may go back to their abuser several times before she leaves him,” Garcia said.
In those cases, the center tries to provide them with the education they need to identify when they are in danger so they can leave faster, Garcia said.
“We try to make them better equipped to handle their own lives and the lives of their children while they are out there in the world.”
Garcia said domestic violence, unfortunately, has remained at more or less a steady pace for the area the center covers, which includes Los Alamos County, the northern part of Santa Fe County and all of Rio Arriba County. Garcia said about 80 percent of their referrals come from Rio Arriba and then the other 20 percent is split fairly evenly between Santa Fe and Los Alamos County.
The low numbers from Los Alamos and Santa Fe can be accounted for through the perceived “bad” reputation Los Alamos residents may have about Española. The other reason has to do with income levels, Garcia said.
“Los Alamos residents tend to talk about Española as a place to be avoided, even though we are the designated services provider for the area,” Garcia said. “They’d much rather go to Santa Fe than us.”
When the numbers of victims seeking help drops, it’s not because of hard economic times, in fact, Garcia said, it’s just the opposite.
“In hard economic times, victims of domestic violence are more hesitant to report because of the financial uncertainty. They don’t know where they are going to end up. Many times the perpetrator of domestic violence is their only source of income.”
But that’s not the only thing that makes it difficult to leave their abuser. In a way, Garcia said they just aren’t walking out on their abuser; they are walking out on their whole life. Family connections, responsibility to a job, children and culture all can be obstacles when it comes to walking out and starting over.
“They have their home and their family is around them constantly telling them to stay together, telling them what a great family they are.” Garcia said. “So, there’s a lot of pressure there.”
There are ways to counter these obstacles, which have come a long away in recent years.
The Crisis Center for example, works with the school systems, other social service providers and police departments to help build links to those who need help.
“In the public schools we do outreach to kids, preteens and teens, talk about consequences, how to reach us and how to seek help.” Garcia said.
According to Garcia, the Los Alamos Police Department has on-hand materials from the Crisis Center to give to people who they might feel may be in trouble, even though they don’t want to press charges. Garcia also said there’s a team of “first responders” in Los Alamos who also reach out to the victims as well.
Though all sorts of factors can play a part in creating a domestic violence situation, Garcia said the main factor has to do with power and control.
“Domestic violence mostly comes from power and control issues,” Garcia said. “Some people feel the need to have power and control over someone else just because they feel they don’t have that same power and control elsewhere in their lives. Using power and intimidation to achieve power over someone else may be the only ways they can make themselves feel better about themselves. It’s very similar to schoolyard bullying.”
To find out more about the services the Crisis Center of Northern New Mexico has to offer, call 505-753-1656. The center also has a 24-hour hotline number at 800-206-1656.
(Ed. note: the “first responders” in Los Alamos do not necessarily have an exclusive contract with the Crisis Center of Northern New Mexico. The Los Alamos Police Department recently reported that the first responders may start referring clients to other domestic abuse centers besides the Crisis Center.)