Domestic violence in Taos County has worsened during the pandemic

The prediction that domestic violence would worsen during the coronavirus pandemic has borne out in data tracked by Community Against Violence, Taos County's domestic and sexual violence agency.

Cases of child abuse rose from 16 cases reported in August 2019 to 38 this year, according to the Northern New Mexico Child Advocacy Center. Malinda Williams, director of CAV, said her agency has conducted as many as 17 forensic interviews related to child abuse in one week, "which is huge for our area," she said.

A total of 243 temporary restraining orders filed through mid-September of this year has already surpassed the 197 total orders filed in all of 2019.

Staff members at CAV have been working for the past several months to help families manage the new stresses caused by social isolation after schools closed and many businesses laid off workers around the county this year.

"Those aren't things that each individual survivor mentions, but some have said that the time together is taking a toll on them," said Ron Olsen, the former deputy district attorney for the 8th Judicial District Attorney's Office, who now works as CAV's staff attorney. Olsen previously worked for CAV after passing the bar in New Mexico in 2013. "Some people are going on walks when they can, but the trip to the bar is out the window."

Although local watering holes may be closed, Olga Trujillo, another CAV staff member, said substance abuse has also been on the rise, especially as Taos County residents find themselves without a job to stay busy. Trujillo said about 70 percent of the people in the program - typically men - are unemployed.

"Our numbers have doubled from last year," she said. "In 2019, we had eight people in the program and now we have 22."

Olsen said there was a notable lag in social services to respond to increasing domestic violence in March and April. Providers were seeking new ways to reach families and offenders remotely. Supportive services for people undergoing sexual assault examinations, for example, has been provided telephonically for much of the year.

At CAV, Trujillo carries a cellphone with her around the clock.

"When stresses get high and they're thinking they're going to reoffend, there's that safety net in place," she said. "They can call anytime of the day or night."

Many of the offenders she works with have also been victims of violence at some point in the past. "Domestic violence is generational," Trujillo said. "It's the norm for many of them."

For victims who need to leave their homes, Celeste Trujillo, another domestic violence specialist, said CAV has relied on hotels and the organization's transitional housing program. The U.S. Department of Justice awarded the program a $570,000 grant this month. The agency's shelter is also operating, but at half capacity to ensure social distancing requirements can be met.

Aside from what new tensions the pandemic has created for New Mexico families, the state has long ranked among the worst states in terms of domestic violence incidents. The Annual Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C., reported on Wednesday (Sept. 23) that New Mexico ranked fourth in the nation in the rate of women murdered by men, at more than one and a half times the national average.

According to a report by the New Mexico Interpersonal Violence Data Central Repository, there were 18,884 cases of domestic violence reported to law enforcement throughout the state in 2018, which was the most recent year for which data was available. Taos County had 119 reports of domestic violence.

The CAV 24-hour helpline can be reached at (575) 758-9888. A text line is available at (575) 770-2706. Community members who suspect child abuse can call the Child Protective Services Statewide Centralized Intake line at (855) 333-7233. More information can be found at TaosCAV.org.

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