Monday, June 08, 2009
Domestic Violence Increases in N.M.
By Hailey Heinz
Copyright © 2009 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer
Authorities say domestic violence is on the rise in New Mexico, and the recession is likely to blame.
Prosecutors and police can only speculate about the cause of the uptick, but District Attorney spokesman Pat Davis said it's easy to draw a line between the recession and the violence.
"There's something new going on, and it certainly seems to correlate with the economy," Davis said. "Our numbers sure show it."
Fourteen percent more felony domestic violence cases were referred to the Bernalillo County District Attorney's Office in the first quarter of 2009 compared to the same time last year. Felony cases usually involve weapons or serious injury.
Davis said it seems likely that people feeling the economic pinch are buying alcohol and drinking at home instead of paying more for drinks at bars. Then after drinking at home, they are venting their financial troubles on family members.
The DA's Office usually sees an increase in domestic violence from year to year, which Davis said they attribute to population growth and more victim awareness about how to report incidents. This year, however, the increase is much sharper than normal.
"It is striking and worrisome that the increase in referrals so far this year seems to be greater than in years past," he said, adding that prosecutors are particularly concerned about the increase in felony charges. "These generally involve weapons, severe injury and the potential for serious harm or death. We know that few offenders start with these serious offenses."
The trend is most apparent at the DA's Office because it handles cases from all Bernalillo County law enforcement agencies and has the largest pool of cases. Albuquerque police spokesman John Walsh said it is too early in the summer to tell for sure whether domestic violence cases have increased, but said violence usually spikes in the summer because of people drinking alcohol in the hot weather.
"It would make sense that if people cannot afford to drink at bars that they would tend to buy package liquor and go home, and in the consumption at home, bring the violence to their family," he said. "It's too early in the season to tell, but it would make sense."
Santa Fe's domestic and sexual violence liaison Carol Horwitz said that, for already abusive families, unemployment can lead to more time together and more opportunities for abuse to happen. She said the tough economy can also make it harder for abuse victims to escape a bad situation.
"The money to get even a bus ticket or cab fare can become more difficult," she said.
Davis said the economic downturn has most likely increased the problem in homes that were already violent.
"Economic stresses affect every family, but it seems that it may have a dangerous effect on families which are already involved with violence," he said.
Similar trends have emerged in Santa Fe, where more people are staying in shelters for battered families.
"The abuse intensified initially when the economy went bad," said Sherry Taylor, executive director of the Esperanza Shelter for Battered Families. "We saw more extreme cases than normal."
Journal staff writer Polly Summar contributed to this report.