This chart is from the Esperanza Shelter for Battered Families in Santa Fe. It shows the dramatic increase in the number of domestic violence victims, both adults and children, they tended to last year, as well as a slight increase in the number of offenders who got some form of counseling through the shelter.
It's difficult to fit these numbers into a larger trend, but there's little reason to suspect the piles of anecdotal evidence—not just from advocates, but from police, prosecutors and judges—regarding a spike in the severity of violence.
A bill to ban convicted wife-beaters from becoming police officers, covered in this week's SFR, was kicked back to a committee it had already passed, instead of moving forward with a floor vote in the New Mexico House of Representatives. The New Mexico Independent should be following today's hearing on the bill on its liveblog.
A grandmother from a small fishing village in Alaska was unhappy with the way a judge was handling the domestic violence against her granddaughter. He was not properly enforcing domestic violence statutes. In fact, he didn't seem to take the issue seriously at all. Determined to do whatever she could to protect her loved one, the grandmother asked four of her elderly friends to accompany her to court. They brought their knitting and sat in the front row, only pausing to peer over their glasses when the judge did something they didn't like. When the judge asked the women what they wanted, they presented him with a prepared list of domestic violence statutes he was not upholding. The grandmothers reported that within six months they had transformed the practices of the court and only visit now and again to be sure the changes are permanent (taken from Family Violence Court Watches: Improving Services to Victims by Documenting Practices by Sarah M. Buehl). The simple act of exercising the right to observe a public hearing made a marked impact on the way that judge viewed domestic violence.
Every week in Santa Fe, survivors of domestic violence are re-victimized by deficiencies in our judicial system. These deficiencies arise from lack of resources, antiquated administrative practices, and sometimes just plain ignorance about the complexity and seriousness of domestic violence. Cases are dismissed when over-burdened prosecutors do not have the resources to build a case against the perpetrator. People who cannot afford a lawyer are lost in the complexity of the legal system. Survivors are chastised in the courtroom when they can no longer contain their emotions. What can we, everyday citizens, do to combat these injustices? We can take our cue from a grandmother. We can exercise our right as residents of the United States to maintain a public presence in our courtrooms.
The Santa Fe Court Watch Program was developed by Carol Horwitz, the Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention Coordinator for the City of Santa Fe in cooperation with the Santa Fe Coordinated Community Response Council. Court Watch trains volunteer court monitors to observe domestic violence hearings and report their findings. The project director compiles the reports to identify recurring problems in the way domestic violence cases are handled and offer opportunities for personnel training, alternative practices, or useful statistics to the appropriate government entity. With the ear of local judges, attorneys, and law enforcement, a handful of citizens are able to significantly impact the way our community addresses the crime of domestic violence. Similar programs throughout the United States have had remarkable results.
The success of the program is completely dependent on the willingness of individuals to donate at least one day per month to monitor court proceedings. This is a community problem. It spans all cultures, tax-brackets, and generations. Whether we realize it or not, all of us know someone who has been affected by this crime.
If you would like to be a part of this grass roots effort to combat domestic violence, please contact Jenna Yañez at (505)573-4042 or SFCourtWatch@yahoo.com. You need not have any legal background; just a willingness to help make a difference.