Alibi V.29 No.7 • Feb 13-19, 2020 

On Assignment

Ending Domestic Violence

Coalition faces cuts, keeps striving

Amy Wiseman and Quintin McShan
Amy Wiseman and Quintin McShan
Eric Williams Photography

Earlier this year, before New Mexico’s second session of the 54th Legislature began meeting, Governor Lujan Grisham published a proposed budget. This well-publicized document outlined her administration’s spending priorities.

Among the proposals for how to spend money from the general fund: $3.5 million to be spent in conjunction with a statewide nonprofit tasked with providing educational and support services to domestic violence programs across the state of New Mexico.

That organization, The New Mexico Coalition Against Domestic Violence, was established in 1979 and incorporated in 1981. The organization has a mission that is centered on coordinating local and national responses to domestic violence, as well as working closely with the state legislature to enact laws that positively impact the community.

Budget

It’s a clear mission, stated plainly on the coalition’s website and backed up by praxis that extends throughout the state. Their safe place on the internet also mentions that most of NMCADV’s funding comes from the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department. Other contributors to funding critically needed to keep operations at the nonprofit moving along include Allstate and the Lineberry Foundation, a subsidiary of the United Way of Central New Mexico’s Center for Non-Profit Excellence.

But long story short, a majority of the organization’s operating budget comes from state funding. Money from the general fund for use by the coalition is generally appropriated through funding granted to the NMCYFD’s behavioral health division, according to NMCADV Executive Director Pam Wiseman. She added that about $1 million of NMCADV’s budget comes from federal funding sources.

In this year’s gubernatorial proposal, the Lujan Grisham administration called for $3.5 million in funding for the coalition under those auspices. But after review by the powerful legislative finance committee, that amount was reduced to $1.6 million.

This reduction happened in a state where, in 2017, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported that New Mexico had the 10th highest rate for women killed by men, according to a study conducted by the Violence Policy Center. That wasn’t new news either; the year 2017 was the third year in a row that New Mexico made this notorious Top 10 list.

Even back then, according to the Santa Fe newspaper of record, the state’s legislative finance committee was critical of the overall response to domestic violence in New Mexico, calling it fragmented and uncoordinated.

According to the New Mexican, “The committee’s report said New Mexico spends little on treatment programs for domestic violence offenders and has little evidence of the effectiveness of those programs. The report also highlighted scant oversight for many offenders. Victims often are left with little help to navigate a legal system that is complex and daunting. “

Opinions on the reason for the decrease in funding differ, as questions about the roots of domestic violence’s persistence linger. Advances are being made, but solutions are still to be found.

To find out more, Weekly Alibi met with NMCADV Executive Director Pam Wiseman and Board of Directors Community Representative Quintin D. McShan to discuss a wide range of issues connected with funding the non-profit, while also having an in-depth discussion of the coalition’s mission, the nature of domestic violence and enforcement and healing in a state that where domestic violence ranks as one of The Land of Enchantment’s worst problems.

Meeting

Wiseman and McShan, accompanied by NMCADV Education and Outreach Coordinator Teresa Garcia, arrived early and were ready to talk about their organization, its role in reducing and ameliorating the effects of domestic violence in the New Mexico community and what it would take to stop the relentless problem.

Wiseman told Weekly Alibi that the NMCADV is a 501(c)(3) that provides support, framing and legislative advocacy to domestic violence programs throughout the state and there are many partners and stakeholders, both governmental and private, that participate in that mission. “A lot of what we do is to build the capacity of both our domestic programs and organizations around the state to respond better and more effectively” to instances of domestic violence, Wiseman said as she began her authoritative narrative about the organization she leads.

During the conversation that followed, Wiseman discussed how the mission of her office had been truncated by the efforts of the previous administration to dismantle the behavioral health system in New Mexico: a profound destruction of services and benefits that agencies like hers are still trying to compensate for in the midst of an unrelenting foe.

“The entire mental health provider system effectively went away. As a consequence, our programs—whether in Alamogordo, or Silver City or Taos or Española or Los Lunas—really wound up picking up the slack. There were a lot of people whose mental health needs could not be addressed. Our programs were in many cases the only ones, the only safety net, really.”

That era brought a sense of calamity and “general mayhem” to providers, advocates and citizens, the executive director continued. And though outcomes may have improved since the election of a progressive Democratic governor, a woman governor at that, Wiseman characterized the problem of domestic violence in New Mexico as profound.

She began to conclude the first part of our meeting by saying, “It’s pervasive. And the issue is that there has been no real serious effort to do anything about it.” New Mexico, she continued, “is never going to get better unless and until the problem of domestic violence is addressed in the way that it needs to be.”

Wiseman believes that the folks at NMCADV have an answer to the daunting issue. The executive director has specific ideas about how to end domestic violence and added, “Looking to a program that works with offenders, or a program to help victims get into different situations is not the answer. We know what to do to reduce violence.”

Those parts of the issue and their solutions are important, she reminds readers, but not as important as recognizing domestic violence for what it is and changing the perception about its acceptance in society.

Wiseman is convinced that education must be part of the process. “We need to do a lot of primary prevention work. We need to be out in the communities. People don’t know what causes violence, why it persists or what to do about it. We need to be able to educate communities. When communities can say ‘we’re not going to have this in our city anymore, then violence is reduced. A lot of it has to do with the message. And the message that is being put out there now is “don’t worry about it. Let’s not make a big deal of it.’ When there are no consequences for bad behavior, it gets worse.”

Methods

At that point in the meeting, McShan, a former New Mexico State Police Officer, began discussing the data behind the overarching issue of domestic violence in New Mexico.

To begin with, as much as 81 percent of domestic violence cases are dismissed in this state, the board of directors member stated. Further, only 8 percent of domestic violence cases tried in New Mexico result in a conviction. What’s more, education could act as a preventative in most of these cases.

Board member and longtime community activist McShan continued, saying, “Our victims and our survivors do know that the problem is the pain that’s being inflicted. They know that violent behavior is causing them to suffer. It’s wrong to suffer, but the community outside that [abusive] family relationship doesn’t know. They need to know what to do as a bystander.”

But despite the deep involvement and intense communication efforts of organizations like the New Mexico Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Wiseman and McShan agreed that there is little they can do to influence or contain certain aspects of the domestic violence problem.

“If the police do not act, we have a hard time affecting change. If the prosecutors do not prosecute, we can’t control that. If the courts do not sentence offenders appropriately, we can’t affect that. If there are no consequences for breaking the courts’ decisions, if there’s no enforcement, we can’t affect change.”

On the other hand, organizations like NMCADV can be effective tools of reform. By acting as an advocate for programs aimed at ameliorating domestic violence, change ensues. By focusing on an important and essential message to the community—that domestic violence won’t be tolerated and that there are consequences for violators—progress will come. In this way, the organization provides the voice of the movement against domestic violence.

The process also involves coordination between different agencies. McShan believes that, “We all need to come together as a community, we need to come together with law enforcement and the courts and prosecutors. It is an us thing, an [all] encompassing thing. To address the final outcome, yeah, we can address our part. But we can’t make arrests, we cannot prosecute cases or convict people. But we can be a voice, the voice.”

Enforcement

Although violent acts always seem to be happening in the human community at large, the members of NMCADV steadfastly believe change is coming. The media age, the age of information, has left many in the community inured to violence. Images of violent death are everywhere in the media; the objectification of women, part of a particularly cruel chapter of late-stage capitalism, continues. Above it all, the world is at war and nuclear devastation is more likely than ever, say scientists.

Yet McShan and Wiseman are optimistic even in an age of persistent violence, that education, advocacy and enforcement will make a difference. “It’s [violence is] happening,” McShan related. There’s not a community in New Mexico where there has not been a murder-suicide in the last 10 years. There are some communities where that is happening with even greater frequency.”

Reminded of last year’s tragic domestic-violence related murder-suicide and double murder in the University area and Nob Hill, the room fell silent for a moment as each participant of the meeting privately contemplated how domestic violence has affected our city’s cultural progress.

Wiseman says that the operative word in such cases is the word “permission.” At that point, she wondered out loud where people get permission to abuse other people? “We make a mistake if we think ‘This person drinks a little bit or this person didn’t have the best upbringing.’ There is no real clear personality associated with someone who is abusive.”

The executive director of NMCADV then continued to make her case clear. “What causes violence? Who knows? It could be a variety of things. The question is, what do we do about it? The most important thing we can do is stop giving permission. In this state, the average dismissal rate for domestic violence cases is over 80 percent and the conviction rate hovers at 8 percent. When we look at that, we have to ask, is there a permission there to commit violence? In our opinion, there is.”

Asked if she believed that such a situation was due to prosecutorial or judicial malfeasance, Wiseman said that there is no one party to cast blame upon. But it should start with a message from important sources, people who are influential.

Legislation

The discussion then shifted to current efforts by the NMCADV to affect sustainable change and end domestic violence once and for all. Wiseman stated that she is concerned about the perception of her organization by the powerful New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee as well as the proposed budget cuts the organization will face if the LFC’s recommendations go into effect.

“The legislative finance committee said ‘you guys got more money last year and yet violence has not gone down.’ First, in the end, we really didn’t get more money. The premise was, ‘Because we give you money, violence should have gone down.’

“Our response to that is that we are one small piece. We need to look at the message and the system. One of the things we’re doing is a memorial that would look at ways of coordinating community responses to domestic violence. Right now, we’re conducting a feasibility study toward that. The University of New Mexico is assisting us.”

Among the matters being studied are methods to increase the conviction rate in domestic violence cases and what the barriers might be to coordinating services and information. Despite the potential cut in funding, Wiseman and McShan are committed to staying the course.

“We need people in higher positions, as well as community members, to say ‘We’re serious about this.’ And instead of saying to the 30 or so programs affected by this budget situation, ‘You guys don’t need any more money. You have too much money already’—most of these programs are operating on a shoestring [budget] as it is—we need to say, ‘What are we going to do about this persistent problem?’ Because if we don’t do something, then the trajectory is going to be for things to get worse.”

News Editor’s Note: In an interesting twist to this developing story, the leadership at the NMCADV revealed that it has decided not to take a stand on SB 5, the Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Act, that is almost certain to go to the governor’s desk for a signature this year.