ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Dozens of people, including the newly elected district attorney and mayoral candidate and state Auditor Tim Keller, gathered Sunday to draw attention to sexual assault prevention and the conversations necessary to help victims.
Other local politicians, public health professionals and advocates took to the Civic Plaza stage Sunday afternoon during a rally focused on destigmatizing the subject and offering support to those affected by sexual violence.
Many in the crowd of about 100 people sat in folding chairs listening to short speeches, while others milled around a series of booths set up by local organizations.
Bianca Villani, the community education and outreach director at the Rape Crisis Center of Central New Mexico, the organization behind Sunday’s rally, said the event was intended to chip away at the stigma that surrounds sexual assault.
“It is scary. It is uncomfortable, but we have to unearth these conversations in order to get anything in motion,” Villani said, “especially to prevent it.”
She said a cultural shift will take time, but a visible rally in the center of town may get people talking. It’s also important, Villani said, to engage the community and make sure that people affected by sexual violence know there’s a support network ready to help them and working to prevent sex assault from happening in the first place.
Amanda Stafford, a public health nurse, said too many victims don’t want to report or don’t even want to be examined.
“They don’t want to get somebody in trouble,” she said. “They don’t want to get in trouble for it.”
Events like the one on Sunday might help a victim find the resources he or she needs. She said that bringing together a community’s resources offers a vital reminder that they all have the same goals.
“We need to collaborate, we need to support each other,” she said. “We need to all work together to look at the bigger picture.”
Keller focused on New Mexico’s rape kit backlog and said that if testing those untested kits was a priority, that would be reflected in the government budgets. A special audit found that there were 254 untested kits for every 100,000 residents in New Mexico — a number that far exceeds that of any other state.
District Attorney Raul Torrez also addressed the crowd.