The week began with a young woman who was assaulted by her boyfriend. The offender is a weight-lifter and the victim is not much over 5 feet tall, weighing about 115 pounds. You could clearly see the finger marks on her neck where he held her down as he beat her in the face, fracturing her orbital socket and breaking her jaw. By all indications she was unconscious when he began to kick her, breaking most of her ribs on the left side. He then sexually molested her 9-year-old daughter, who witnessed the attack. The victim is likely to lose the vision in her eye, and her jaw is wired shut, literally silencing her.
The next day, the Domestic Violence Resource Center coordinated services for a woman who was beaten with a baseball bat, and then strangled and raped, by her husband who has a history of domestic violence. There were no broken bones but she was bruised from head to foot, with extreme facial swelling and a possible concussion. She refused to press charges and only wanted to find a safe place for 48 hours. She then went back to her husband.
Later that same week, DVRC helped a woman find safety who was forcibly kicked out of her home by her husband. She has three small children. She had no money, no transportation and no cellphone. She had nothing but the clothes on her back and was forced into homelessness for weeks before seeking help. Her history of domestic violence relationships goes back decades. She has known nothing different for the majority of her adult life.
These are only a few examples of thousands of domestic violence cases that DVRC handles every year in our community. Albuquerque needs to recognize that domestic violence is every bit an epidemic as COVID-19. Our organization will answer on average 45 calls to its help line every day. That’s over 16,000 calls annually. We provide direct services to approximately 6,000 victims and will refer to other specialty organizations such as the Rape Crisis Center of Central New Mexico; Sexual Assault Nurses Examiners; New Mexico Legal Aid; the state Children, Youth and Families Department; the Albuquerque Police Department’s Family Assault and Stalking Unit; the District Attorney’s Office; and Para los Ninos, which deals with sexual assault against children – all part of the Albuquerque Family Advocacy Center. When asked what happens to victims when they can’t be seen by an advocate in a timely manner, caseworker or counselor, the tragic truth is they often end up returning to their offender because they are financially dependent and often need to provide for their children regardless of the risks.
Systemic domestic violence happens because it becomes “normalized.” It is important to understand there is an intimate relationship between victim and offender deeply rooted in a cycle of power and control. Often victims don’t realize they are being affected and accept their lives as normal, including hiding the abuse regardless if it is physical, sexual, verbal, emotional or financial. Victims hide in plain sight, and when the abuse is obvious, bystanders have no clue how to react or offer help, and there is an ever-present fear of making matters worse when a victim seeks or receives help. Employers don’t engage with their employees about their safety at home; and schools have to tread cautiously when interfering in the lives of students. In other words, domestic violence isn’t educated or openly talked about enough, relegating it to silence.
October was Domestic Violence Awareness month and DVRC has ceased to be quiet. DVRC wants Albuquerque to know that the cycle of domestic violence can be broken, victims are not alone, and there are people and free resources available. If you or someone you know is being abused call our help line at (505) 248-3165; and please consider supporting DVRC at dvrcnm.org.