One in every three women and one in every 10 men in New Mexico experience domestic violence, according to statistics cited by Kristin Carmichael, the domestic violence specialist at Christus St. Vincent's Hospital. The majority of them will be harassed in the workplace, she adds.
Most of the time employers deny it happens, deny it's any of their business or don't know what to do, Carmichael says. As a result, the victims don't know what to do either.
At a Wednesday meeting put on by the Santa Fe Coordinated Community Response Council, Carmichael laid out a strategy to best address the issue in the workplace. It starts with asking coworkers suspected of abuse if everything's alright at home, something Carmichael says is the "greatest hurdle." If they open up, the next step involves brainstorming the best way to address it.
"The action plan needs to meet the threat level," Carmichael tells SFR. "You need to be willing to amend your plan quickly."
This could involve everything from giving the person shelter resources like Esperanza Shelter for Battered Families to getting other people at work involved. Carmichael, who gets complaints of abuse from coworkers at St. Vincent's all the time, says the steps can make situations safer but can't assure it.
"This is not an exact science," she says. "There is no way to guarantee safety."
Julianna Koob, a lawyer who chairs the Southwest Women's Law Center, highlighted the rights victims of rape, household violence and stalkers have under New Mexico law. Any victim is allowed to take up to 14 days each year off from work to meet with get an order of protection and meet with lawyers and law enforcement without getting fired. They can also keep everything confidential.
Most New Mexico employers follow the guidelines, but there are "a few bad apples," Koob says.
Still, it doesn't include meeting with doctors, shelters, advocates, moving to a new home or moving a child to a new school. Employers also aren't required to pay for the days off.
Rebecca Tallman, a retired educator and social worker, says the toughest part of addressing the issue is getting past people's deep set views and convincing them there's a better way to live.
"Especially if you've grown up with six or seven generations of men intimidating the women in the family," Tallman tells SFR. "Somebody has to step in and educate you so you change your attitude."
The CCRC, designed to make Santa Fe the safest city in the country by 2012, has four big meetings a year at St. Vincent's addressing issues like human trafficking, rape and stalking.