Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Editor’s note: Today, the Journal continues its Help for the Holidays series, which spotlights areas in which community members can reach out to neighbors in need.
The phones at the Domestic Violence Resource Center ring almost nonstop.
The waiting list to see one of their counselors is four to six months long, and the staff is trying to operate with a skeleton crew. COVID-19 has made it impossible to bring in volunteers, but organizations like the Resource Center are needed more than ever as the pandemic pushes already fragile families to the brink.
The Domestic Violence Resource Center offers many services to anyone looking to escape an abusive situation. It provides counseling, financial tips and a case manager who can help with legal issues, finding a permanent place to live, making home repairs and any other needs. The center also provides training for medical and law enforcement personnel.
Michelle Tafoya, clinical director and director of education and community outreach for the center, said the number of clients has soared since last year.
She said the center usually serves between 4,500 and 5,000 people per year, but this year the number reached 5,000 by fall. It usually receives 10,000 calls a year but is on track to double that by the end of this year.
“We don’t have the manpower,” she said. “We are juggling. We have a four- to six-month backlog to see a counselor. That is rare for us. We usually only have a five-person waiting list.”
She said agencies across the state are reporting an increased need for help. The pandemic, she said, has amplified abusive conditions in homes.
Victims are stuck at home with their abusers, making it tougher for them to seek help.
For Bertha Campos, 53, complete isolation, no resources and a language barrier kept her locked into her relationship.
Campos completed the ninth grade in her small Mexican town before leaving high school to work. She met her partner when she was 16.
In a written interview translated by an interpreter, Campos said the abuse began almost immediately after she moved in with him. He would physically attack her, she wasn’t allowed to work, she wasn’t allowed to see her family, and when company came over, she had to stay in the bedroom.
The couple came to Albuquerque when Campos was 20, and the abuse continued. Then they had four children, and the only time Campos was allowed to leave home alone was when she was taking them to school.
During these trips she met other mothers, who became her friends and allies. For the first time, she understood that how she was living was not normal. But it would take a confrontation in 1992 with her eldest daughter, who was 9 at the time, to persuade her to take action.
The children were witnessing daily violence by that point.
“My kids were telling me to leave,” she said. “My daughter said, ‘If you don’t leave our dad, I’m going to leave and take my siblings to our grandparents in Mexico.’ ”
Campos said something finally clicked and she started to make a plan. But just as Campos was preparing to leave, her husband died in an accident.
She said the abuse was over, but she didn’t know how to do much on her own. Enlace Comunitario, she said, helped her obtain life skills and build a career as well as heal from the years of abuse.
In addition to becoming an advocate, she now owns her own tamale and catering business, Mujeres En Acción.
Enlace fundraising associate Mayra Olivas-Arreola said Enlace was started to help Spanish-speaking women experiencing intimate partner violence. Enlace’s goal is to not only help victims leave their abusers, but to end the cycle of abuse. They offer life skills classes and counseling and provide legal aid and help with housing.
This year, she said, Enlace is seeing a 60% increase in domestic violence.
“Although the pandemic didn’t create intimate partner violence in the homes,” Olivas-Arreola said, “it involuntarily created profound distress and hardships that triggered an already abusive person to become more violent.”
A safe place
One of the Domestic Violence Resource Center’s community partners is S.A.F.E. (Shelter and Family Empowerment) House, a domestic violence shelter. The shelter has 85 beds, and clients can stay for up to 90 days. After that, the staff helps them transition to temporary housing with reduced rent. They also help victims set up a safety plan, get a job if they don’t have one, sort out custody issues, obtain a restraining order when needed, get a phone and address any substance abuse issues, said Kristen Kinzer, the community and development manager for S.A.F.E. House.
“The average person leaves eight times before they are successful,” Kinzer said. “For the most part, if they are with us, they are ready to be gone.”
Kinzer said the organization relies on community support, corporate sponsorships, grants and its thrift store on Lomas, Thriftique, for funding. The store is closed now because of COVID-19, but this is where the organization usually accepts donations of used goods.
The New Mexico Coalition Against Domestic Violence supports domestic violence agencies across the state. Director Pam Wiseman said 1 in 3 women and 1 in 7 men will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. However, she said, most victims do not report their abuse to law enforcement, so there is no way to know for sure.
According to www.domesticviolencestatistics.org, a woman is assaulted every nine seconds in the U.S., and domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women. Three women die every day in the U.S. at the hands of their husbands or boyfriends.
Wiseman has worked with victims and offenders. Domestic violence organizations, she said, are a critical resource in all communities.
“Most people don’t say to themselves, ‘I want to be with someone who beats me and leaves me financially and emotionally destitute,’ ” she said. “People get hooked in, and it’s hard to get out.”
Abuse does not always include physical contact. It can be mental, emotional, sexual and financial as well. Tafoya said there are many barriers to leaving. Fear is the No. 1 reason.
“They know exactly what their abuser is capable of,” Tafoya said.
Death is a very real possibility for some victims. According to the Violence Policy Center, in New Mexico in 2018, “For homicides in which the victim to offender relationship could be identified, 95% of female victims (19 out of 20) were murdered by someone they knew … 74% (14 victims) were wives, common-law wives, ex-wives, or girlfriends of the offenders.”
Other barriers include a lack of resources, a desire to preserve the family, religious beliefs and obligations, and legal considerations.
Breaking the cycle
Domestic violence organizations help women like Amanda Chino-Zamora, who has had a string of abusive relationships in her life. The former 911 operator was no stranger to domestic violence but never thought it would happen to her. It took the extensive counseling and validation she got from the Domestic Violence Resource Center to break the cycle and pull her out of it.
“I met him, and I ignored the red flags,” said Chino-Zamora, 37. “… I thought I could fix him, make his life better.”
She blamed herself and didn’t think anyone would believe she was being abused.
“I became very isolated,” she said. “All my friends disappeared.”
She finally got the courage to leave with the help of someone she knew, only to find herself immediately in another abusive situation. But this time she didn’t ignore the red flags, and she left the relationship within a year. She knew about the center from her work as a 911 operator and knew what she had to do to break the cycle.
“I went to them (the center),” she said. “They helped me get an attorney. I spent 15 months in therapy. It was the first time I ever felt relief, because somebody believed me. I wasn’t crazy.”
Chino-Zamora is now a domestic violence advocate helping others leave abusive situations. She said her children are still dealing with the emotional trauma of their past lives.
Albuquerque is seeking applicants for a Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act domestic violence grant. The city is dedicating $250,000 of its federal CARES Act funds to nonprofit domestic violence and sexual assault organizations.
“The stressors of the pandemic have increased the risks of domestic violence and made it more difficult for those experiencing violence to access help,” said Torri Jacobus, chair of the city’s Domestic Violence Task Force and director of its Civil Rights Office. “Local organizations that provide services to those experiencing domestic violence have reported a steep rise in requests for services.”