October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Carol Horwitz has been the domestic violence and sexual assault liaison for the City of Santa Fe since March 2007. She worked for five years as a program manager at Peacekeepers Domestic Violence Program, treating women from Eight Northern Indian Pueblos. Horwitz also has led women's and LGBT support groups at Esperanza Shelter for Battered Families, Inc. in Santa Fe.
SFR: How’d you end up getting a job with the city doing this?
CH: My husband, Don Faulkner, he always teases me about being a board in the mayor’s platform. When [David Coss] was running for mayor, he promised he’d do something about domestic violence. He talked to then director of Esperanza [Shelter for Battered Families, Inc.], KC Quirk. She and [Rape Crisis Center Executive Director] Barbara Goldman said they needed someone with the city to help. They thought the city needed to step up to the plate.
Was the city not stepping up to the plate?
There was an outcry. The city wasn’t doing enough, and there wasn’t enough law enforcement, and perpetrators
and victims were falling through the cracks left and right. And I’m not saying those things aren’t happening now because people are still slipping through the cracks. The first thing I did when I came on board is, I implemented the domestic violence patrol officer advocate project. The patrol officers had not been making referrals to Esperanza, so I made this project—every month a patrol officer who made the most referrals to Esperanza got a free dinner in town. I solicited a lot of different restaurants to get those dinners. What I was trying to do was to get the patrol officers to think of more than just giving victims a little card and saying, ‘Here’s your case number and here are some phone numbers.’ Esperanza is a shelter and, once you get into the system, there’s a million different things they can do for you and your children.
This position didn’t exist before you came on board. How did the officers receive you?
When I came into the police department, everyone was like, ‘Who is this tree-hugger woman—this old hippie—and what the heck is she doing here?’ And they were really not happy with me. I sensed that. And
I worked hard to make connections with patrol officers. I went to all the briefings and introduced myself. I
also went on ride-alongs and did all of that. And then I would go to all the commander meetings, and people got to get to know me. And, all of the sudden, domestic violence advocates were not the enemies of law enforcement.
Why would domestic violence advocates be seen as enemies of law enforcement?
Because, according to the laws around violence against women, when a woman goes into a shelter, her location, her name, everything is completely confidential. So let’s say a law enforcement officer is trying to do an investigation and calls up Esperanza shelter and says, ‘I know so-and-so is in there, I brought her in last night, and I need some more information, where her partner works, blah blah blah…’ The shelter goes, ‘I can neither confirm nor deny that this person is here.’ That is the law. And all of the sudden, they’re butting heads. For law enforcement, it’s so frustrating to arrest these guys over and over again, and never be able to take it to the next step because they can’t get the additional information.
Right now, what’s the most important area of concern for you?
Well, the thing that is of most concern to me personally is the children. That, to me, is a really big deal. People think that because their children are in bed or they’re little or they’ve not been born yet that they’re not getting the energy of domestic violence in the family. And they are. Those children are traumatized. They have got to get counseling.
Is there a cycle of violence aspect, in terms of the kids?
Well, they say that children who witness domestic violence are more likely to grow up to be perpetrators or victims. I think that is true, but I don’t think it means you’ll grow up to be a perpetrator or victim. There’s an increased likelihood. Right now, it’s really hard to be a kid in New Mexico and in this world.
According to the latest figures you’ve compiled, the number of domestic violence cases has increased over the past year. Yet you say this is a good thing. Why?
Victims tend to feel like it is their fault. They tend to feel responsible and, a lot of times, they won’t come forward; they won’t want to share with anyone their shame. There’s isolation. They don’t trust the system. And then people in the community don’t say anything because…for a long time people thought it was just a family matter. Now people are saying, ‘Somebody’s got to check this out.’ That’s really good.
Do you ever see victims or perpetrators in public?
I’ll tell you a really embarrassing story. I used to do intakes at Esperanza and once, I ran into this person at a restaurant and said, ‘Hi! How are you doing?’ and the person kept saying, ‘I don’t know you.’ About a week later I remembered it was a perpetrator.
Can you put Santa Fe in perspective, compared with domestic violence issues elsewhere?
New Mexico is very dangerous—the third most dangerous state in which to live. Santa Fe is the seventh most dangerous county in which to live in the state. These are FBI statistics.
How do you stay optimistic, seeing so many domestic violence cases every day?
Well, I have a dark sense of humor. I’ve been doing it for 20 years. One thing about it is, every once in a while, I know I’m making a difference in someone’s life. And that’s what makes it possible. It’s really important to feel like I’m doing something important. So in that way it’s great.