Crisis Center works to rehab DV offenders

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Courts > Treatment involves a year-long program

By Tris DeRoma

First of a series

The victims often suffer in silence.

It’s an insidious problem that can be found on virtually every rung of the socioeconomic ladder.

While some people may know a victim of domestic violence, more often people hear about cases when it makes the news.

Once a domestic violence case makes its way to the criminal justice system, the paths taken by the victim and the perpetrator diverge. For those convicted of domestic violence, there is a lot that begins to happen behind the scenes, which involves more than just a fine and probation.

The Los Alamos Magistrate Court usually refers those convicted of a domestic violence charge to the Crisis Center of Northern New Mexico, located in Española.

According to the center’s assistant director Ramon Garcia, the 52-week rehab program the center offers for domestic violence offenders begins with an interview with the offender.

“We first perform an initial assessment of their ability to control themselves,” Garcia said. From there, he said, they are assigned a group of people with similar backgrounds and situations before beginning treatment.

Garcia said the program consists of domestic violence education, since a lot of the program’s enrollees may still think they’ve done nothing wrong — even though they’re there because they’ve been found guilty in a court of law. He said it may not be until several months into the program that many offenders begin to realize the impact of their actions and that it’s wrong to commit physical and/or mental abuse against another.

“They are taught what domestic violence looks like and the consequences,” Garcia said. “They are educated not only about the legal consequences for them, but the physical and psychological impact their actions have on their victims, including children.”

Once that part is completed, the program focuses on the offenders themselves, having them perform a series of exercises designed to identify the root cause of violent behavior.

“We teach them to find their anger or the point where they lose control,” Garcia said. “This hopefully helps them understand where their anger comes from, how they lose control.”

That’s just half the battle, however, as people who commit domestic violence come from many socioeconomic, cultural and familial backgrounds.

What might be a trigger for one person may not be one for another, according to Garcia.

However, he believes all domestic offenders seem to have one common trait.

“The only real common denominator is that they’ve lived in an environment where domestic violence was common,” Garcia said.

He also said that though they may have learned a lot, that doesn’t mean they are out of the woods. Garcia said that’s really when the real work begins for those in the program.

“Nobody really graduates,” he said.

“Once they leave, they have to work on themselves and their issues every day. It’s just like drug addiction. You can go to recovery as many times as you want to, but unless you’re personally motivated to give it up completely, it’s never going to happen.”

Garcia admitted their recidivism rate is fairly high.

Out of the many offenders they treated each year, about 60 percent find themselves back at the center at some point after their first attempt at rehabilitation.