This year marks Community Against Violence’s (CAV) 40th year of being a domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse response agency serving Northern New Mexico.
Over four decades, CAV has been inspired and fueled by the voices of individuals and families who speak up about what has happened to them and by those who are able to speak out for others who were silenced by what happened to them.
These voices are remarkable and tenacious qualities of our communities. They are helping to eliminate two of the key mechanisms that have allowed violence to continue in our communities: shame and secrecy.
CAV’s growth has been in partnership with our communities, always motivated by those elements of speaking up and speaking out. This has helped CAV create a safe and confidential place for people to go when they experienced violence.
It also pushed forward a communitywide conversation that has increased our capacity to talk about these incredibly difficult and painful topics. This combination of having a safe place to go and sharing common conversations with a language that speaks out are powerful antidotes to shame and secrecy.
And the community conversations are being energized with new voices of those who are noticing the evolutions happening outside our community as well. One community member, Andy Dennison, spoke up in the wake of these growing conversations following recent national scandals of sexual and domestic violence: “Look how the floodgates have been flung open in the public arena. For me, it's about creating an understanding among everyone that this has been going on, so subtly, so under wraps, so tacitly accepted, and it's time to stand up to it, time to recognize that it will still go on unless we grasp this moment.”
It’s been 40 years since a small handful of courageous women gathered in Taos in response to domestic violence-related deaths in our community. Those strong women made a stand against that violence.
Another group of community women took a vocal stand against the rapes that were being committed in Northern New Mexico. These women wanted something to be done; they wanted a different, safe community. They each said enough is enough and created a volunteer network THAT opened their homes to shelter the women and children who had fled their own homes because of violence.
They created a volunteer-run hotline to respond to sexual assaults and domestic violence. That community stand — in speaking up and speaking out — made Community Against Violence one of the earliest domestic violence and rape crisis response programs in the country.
These Taos women’s declarations of “enough is enough” and “something must be done” are phrases that resonate with what we are all hearing today, not only at CAV, but throughout our community and the country.
I believe that having more and more women speak out about their experiences of sexual violence, not ONLY through the #MeToo movement, but also through everyday conversations, has helped exponentially increase awareness about how pervasive this problem has been. When survivors realize they aren’t alone in having experienced sexual trauma, I believe it often emboldens them to speak up.
We were shying away from the phrase “giving courage” because we were concerned it could be inferred that those who don’t speak up through the #MeToo movement or other avenues don’t have courage. We’ve seen 40 years of women (and men) who are extremely courageous but who don’t speak up for a myriad of reasons.
Our community has learned over the years that this work is much bigger than CAV employees and volunteers alone can accomplish. Every woman, every community member needs to be an ally in this work. Taos is full of people, busy with their own lives and trying to support their own families, who continually reach out to support the services at CAV or to support their neighbors, friends, coworkers and extended families.
CAV values its unique vantage point in witnessing the amazing generosity of our community members and their willingness to take on such challenging topics and to step out of their own lives and into the shoes of another to ask, “What would I need?” “What can I say?”
When people tell their stories about domestic violence and sexual abuse, they are engaging the community in a conversation about these issues. Many times, survivors’ voices have been silenced by their abuser. CAV will always be a place where survivors are heard and supported to find their own voice, and more and more, our community members are supporting them and adding in their own voices in speaking out.
“Domestic violence is a learned behavior that occurs by exerting power and control and manipulating trust,” says Rachel Cox, clinical director at CAV. “One way we can stop this is by talking about it. We must send a message to survivors and their offenders that our community supports them making positive changes in their homes.”
Malinda Williams is the executive director of Community Against Violence in Taos. She can be reached at (575) 758-8082. Rachel Cox contributed to this story.