Women’s Crisis: A Hidden Epidemic
“It has been over twenty years and I can still feel the pain on my face and the force with which he hit me. The sudden transformation of a man who had been so loving into the unexpected violent monster was very disconcerting. He had been very patient, loving and supportive through the pregnancy. He would rub my stomach and even respected my request of not having sex during the pregnancy. However, immediately after giving birth to our first baby, he demanded that we have sex. I told him the doctor said we needed to wait. He punched me, right in the face. I don’t know why, but my reaction was to not tell anyone, so I hid it. I never expected to find myself in that situation. I had been raised in a loving family. My mother and grandmother were strong female role models. I had always been an outspoken girl with great self-confidence and self-esteem,” relived Pat. She also remembers feeling the need to continue to hide what was happening to her from her family, especially from her mother. She did not want to worry her and give her more problems.
Domestic violence and sexual abuse is an epidemic affecting our community. Once in a while it surfaces on the media with a controversial story involving a high profile celebrity, but it fades away. We fail to see that there are women around us that face this kind of abuse every day. The numbers are much greater than people are aware of and most people do not like to talk about it. On average, twenty-four people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States.¹ The national numbers are impacting, but one might think that kind of reality is exclusive of bigger cities or a particular demographic. Last year in New Mexico, domestic violence was responsible for 18,954 responses by law enforcement.² In Las Cruces, last year there were a total of 514 individuals charged with battery against a household member. It is important to note that those 514 were only the individuals who were charged. According to a report by Betty Caponera, Ph.D., “An Analysis of Data from the New Mexico Interpersonal Violence Data Central Repository,” 40% of survivors of domestic violence do not report an incident to law enforcement.
Caponera’s most recent report indicates that in 2012 there were 4,176 sex crimes reported by participating law enforcement agencies in New Mexico. Yet one of the most startling aspects of sex crimes is how many are not reported. The Caponera report also indicates that the number of adult rapes reported to law enforcement represent only 8% of the estimated adult rapes. The most common reasons given by women for not reporting sexual abuse are the belief that it is a private matter, guilt, believing that somehow it was their fault, or fear of reprisal from the assailant.
Pat Acosta is a survivor of domestic violence and sexual abuse. She explains that it took her about six to seven years before she opened up about domestic violence, and another two years to talk about the sexual abuse. “I now feel comfortable speaking about my experience. I feel that if victims see other survivors come out and talk about this hidden epidemic (as we know domestic violence to be), will definitely empower them to maybe come out and know there is help out there,” explains Pat.
Pat’s heart breaking story includes five incredibly painful years of sexual, emotional, verbal and physical abuse. After unceasingly trying to save her relationship, being the best mom she could be and hoping that he would finally change; Pat had enough. She got divorced, got her own place, was working and going to school. She thought everything was finally going well. Then, one night after running into each other at a family event, she woke up to her ex-husband on top of her. He was holding a knife threatening to cut off her private parts. She managed to roll off the bed and ran to the bathroom in an attempt to lock herself away from him. He kicked the door open and attacked her. He slammed her head against the toilet knocking her teeth out and then attempted to strangle her. “The last thing I remember is my daughter crying and shouting, “This time you really killed her! This time you really killed her!” recalls Pat.
Pat would like people to know that domestic violence kills. She was very lucky to make it out alive. A woman is far more likely to be killed by her spouse, an intimate acquaintance, or a family member than by a stranger.³ Fortunately, there are two local non-profit organizations that specialize in assisting victims of abuse here in Las Cruces. La Casa provides comprehensive services to all individuals, in order to diminish domestic violence and abuse in all forms. They offer crisis counseling and support, shelter, legal assistance, assistance accessing community resources, children’s programs, educational services, transitional housing, immigration advocacy and batterer’s intervention.
La Piñon is a full-service sexual assault response agency that provides comprehensive sexual assault recovery services for sexual abuse victims and their families regardless of how recent the abuse occurred. Donna Richmond, executive director at La Piñon, explains: “All our services are bilingual. We are not mandated to report to law enforcement when victims, over the age of 18, want to receive counseling services.” They provide 24/7 crisis intervention first response by phone and in person, medical advocacy, legal assistance, therapeutic counseling and Kid Talk, a warmline for kids to talk about any problems they have.
“The biggest way the community can help is by putting a stop to victim blaming,” said Theresa Armendariz, executive director at La Casa. The majority of people inevitably blame the victim for being a victim. They ask: “Why doesn’t she leave?” There are many reasons such as being scared of aggravating the abuse, being overwhelmed, believing it is their duty to remain in a relationship and endure, self-blaming, being worried about their children’s safety and being financially dependent on the abuser. “We ask that you help us expand their safety zone, so that when they leave the shelter they can continue to re-build their lives without being judged,” added Armendariz.
Even though she did not have resources such as La Casa and La Piñon when she was in crisis, Pat went on to college and obtained a degree in social work. That path took her to similar agencies in California and she was able to receive the counseling she needed. She also remarried and her four beautiful daughters are thriving. The man responsible for all of the abuse was never held accountable for his crimes. Pat has been an advocate and activist against domestic violence for the last thirty years. She now runs the batterer’s intervention program at La Casa and asks that we as a community break the silence. “We need to make a plan to eradicate this epidemic. We need to make people accountable and be pro-active. Don’t wait until it happens to you or someone you love. Say no to domestic violence and sexual abuse.”
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence or sexual abuse, please do not be afraid to contact the agencies listed below. One phone call can change your situation.
24-Hour Crisis Lines:
(575) 526-9513 or 1-800-376-2272
Main Office Number: (575) 526-2819
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 2463, Las Cruces, NM 88004
La Piñon Sexual Assault Recovery Services
24-Hour Crisis Hotlines:
1 (575) 526-3437 (Las Cruces)
1 (888) 595-7273 (Toll Free)
KidTalk Warmline: 1-575-636-3636
Weekdays 3pm-10pm, Weekend 24-Hours
Main Office Address:
525 South Melendres St., Las Cruces, New Mexico 88005
1 The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Summary Report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Black, M.C., Basile, K.C., Breiding, M.J., Smith, S.G., Walters, M.L., Merrick, M.T., Chen, J., & Stevens, M.R. (2011).
2 Betty Caponera, Ph.D. (July 2014) Incidence and Nature of Domestic Violence in New Mexico XIII: An Analysis of 2013 Data from the New Mexico Interpersonal Violence Data Central Repository. Sex Crimes in New Mexico XI: An Analysis of 2012 Data from the New Mexico Interpersonal Violence Data Central Repository.
3 Violence Policy Center. (2013, September). When Men Murder Women: An Analysis of 2011 Homicide Data. Washington, DC.