Extra $5M sought to aid assault victims - Albuquerque Journal

Extra $5M sought to aid assault victims

The Roundhouse in Santa Fe. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Amid New Mexico’s high crime rate, a coalition that includes a district attorney and community groups is calling on the Legislature to authorize an extra $5 million to maintain and expand services for victims of sexual assault.

The group is also asking Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to allow lawmakers in the 30-day session to take up legislation establishing an “affirmative consent standard” at schools and colleges for the investigation of sexual assault allegations. Affirmative consent would also be incorporated into a health education course required for high school graduation.

“We deserve to feel safe in our learning environment and our communities,” IsaBella Thomas, a student at New Mexico School for the Arts, said Monday in an online news conference.

The funding and legislative requests come as New Mexico endures one of the highest rates of rape in the country. The state was among the 10 worst in 2020, according to legislative documents.

Some victims of sexual assault in New Mexico face a yearlong wait for counseling, legislative analysts said, and the number of sexual assault nurse examiners has fallen 43% since 2019.

The base budget for sexual assault services is now about $4 million, a figure the coalition wants to boost by $5 million to offset reduced federal funding and expand services.

The extra money would support children’s advocacy centers, sexual assault nurses examiners, providers of counseling and other services, a sexual violence hotline and tribal programs.

Lujan Grisham’s budget proposal includes the $5 million increase, supporters say. A proposal by the Legislative Finance Committee recommends a smaller increase, of $2.3 million.

Lawmakers are to craft a budget plan in the 30-day session beginning next week.

Participating in Monday’s news conference were the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, Valencia Shelter Services and 13th Judicial District Attorney Barbara Romo, whose territory covers Valencia, Cibola and Sandoval counties.

The affirmative consent legislation – sponsored by Rep. Liz Thomson, D-Albuquerque – won bipartisan support last session, passing the state House on a 58-7 vote. But it didn’t make it through the Senate in time to reach the governor’s desk.

Thomson said she is asking Lujan Grisahm to add a similar proposal, House Bill 44, to the agenda of the 2022 session. In even years, the governor helps determine what bills besides budget and finance legislation can be taken up.

Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett said the legislative session already has a weighty agenda but that the administration “will continue to review and evaluate potential initiatives.”

Affirmative consent policies make it clear that an absence of protest or resistance, a dating relationship or incapacitation due to alcohol or drugs aren’t evidence that someone agreed to sexual activity.

Thomson said she survived childhood sexual assault and date rape in college.

“I know that many people who are survivors or victims don’t feel comfortable bringing it forward. I was that person,” she said. “I told no one. It still hurts.”

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