Editor’s note: This story has been corrected. The Albuquerque Community Safety Department does not have an office in the building.
It’s something of a quandary, one that Bev McMillan has been grappling with since taking over the management of the Albuquerque Family Advocacy Center, a place she calls the city’s best-kept secret but shouldn’t be – and then again it needs to be.
Hence, the quandary.
The center, which she likes to call the FAC (rhymes with “back”), provides free social, legal and law enforcement services to survivors of rape and domestic violence under one roof – a one-stop shop, if you will, to make the grueling next steps after an assault a little less complicated, a little more cohesive, a lot more caring.
Agencies at the FAC include the Domestic Violence Resource Center, New Mexico Legal Aid, Rape Crisis Center of Central New Mexico, Albuquerque Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) and Para Los Niños. The Albuquerque Police Department also has an office in the building but in a separate wing on the same floor.
When it opened in October 2007, the FAC was lauded as a groundbreaking way to combine efforts for victims in need of support, law enforcement in need of evidence and social services agencies in need of leasing a safe place to provide care. Then-Mayor Martin Chavez called it “one of the most important things that will be accomplished” during his tenure.
Ten years later, the FAC was called “a beacon of light in a very dark world,” but officials acknowledged that the light wasn’t bright enough to reach as many victims as it should. To that end, McMillan was hired in 2017 to help reignite awareness of the FAC.
At the same time, that very dark world has grown even darker. To keep the survivors and families safe and to protect them from their abusers, the FAC requires layers of security and some anonymity.
“It is a best-kept secret, but in a way it has to be,” McMillan said. But maybe it’s a little too secret, she acknowledges. And so I am here at the FAC to shine a light on a space that shouldn’t be secret to survivors.
The building itself on Silver SW, originally the Mountain States Telephone offices in the 1950s and later the local offices of New Mexico’s U.S. senators, reveals nothing about its current occupants from the outside.
But if you know, you know.
McMillan awaits upstairs in the FAC lobby, which like much of the offices is awash in tones of purple, the color for domestic violence awareness month, observed every October. A purple pumpkin sits on the lobby table – McMillan’s own creative contribution. Purple ribbons wrapped with small copper acorns adorn most of the doors in this maze of hallways where the agencies’ well-appointed offices, exam rooms, supply rooms, waiting rooms and play rooms are located.
To get to them, we must pass a receptionist and a series of security doors. It feels safe here but not confining.
Medical exam rooms include baskets of stuffed animals. In one room, the size of the table’s stirrups, which hold the feet of the rape victim during a pelvic examination, are smaller and covered in fabric decorated with cartoon turtles, a horrific reminder that some victims of sexual assault are children.
“We had a 2-month-old who was sexually assaulted and examined here, and I couldn’t wrap my head around what kind of person would do that to a tiny child,” McMillan said.
Para Los Niños, part of the University of New Mexico Health System, provides evaluation, treatment and follow-up care for these children and adolescents. SANE, a nonprofit now in its 25th year, also performs medical/forensic evaluations and provides support for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.
Here, an assault victim can speak with a police investigator – if she chooses – and then go to the FAC for the examination and collection of evidence in the same facility, instead of traipsing between police station and hospital. A shower and new clothing are also available after the exam is concluded.
Down the hall is a room filled with bins of clothing and shoes, sorted and marked according to size, gender and item. Racks of business attire are here as well for court appearances and job interviews.
Clients can also choose from among the bounty of items in the food pantry and the assortment of toiletries and diapers.
“We try to anticipate every need a victim might have,” McMillan said. “We can also help with temporary housing.”
Other rooms are set aside for counseling and interviewing, the child-centered rooms equipped with sand trays, a whiteboard and toys.
One room features a massive bean bag chair, where traumatized children can cuddle with Graham, a friendly black Labrador retriever who is APD’s crisis response canine. Another room, nicknamed the Reflection Room, features a working waterfall and reading material, including the Bible.
Domestic Violence Resource Center advocates can help victims file restraining orders; Legal Aid workers can help with other machinations of separation, such as divorce and custody issues.
The FAC exists with generous support from the United Way of Central New Mexico, which pays McMillan’s salary, and local corporate donors. The city of Albuquerque provides office space for the agencies rent-free, although each agency keeps its own budget to fund its services.
As we walk through the hallways, I’m struck by how new and welcoming the place is, how eager the staffs from the various agencies are to let the public know about the work they do – and how there are no clients, at least none I am able to see. Perhaps it’s just a slow morning as McMillan says. I know it’s not because Albuquerque’s problem with sexual assault and domestic violence has dramatically decreased.
As we speak, McMillan responds to emails from iHeartRadio. Billboards are also going up, she said. Brochures are being printed, some in Spanish. They’re just some of the efforts she is employing to spread the word about the FAC. It’s time this stopped being a secret to those who need it.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.