As New Mexicans grapple with the realities of COVID-19, including Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's stay-at-home order from earlier this week, the Santa Fe-based nonprofit, Solace Crisis Treatment Center, which closed its building for regular hours this week, is wrestling with harsh realities of its own.
Already, according to education and prevention manager Jess Clark, the advocates at Solace have seen a 30% increase in requests for help over the last year and a half, and in cases of extreme isolation, particularly with an abusive partner or person at home, he expects that number will rise dramatically. Simply put, more New Mexicans are at risk of sexual violence in the current climate.
"Right now we're seeing an uptick in calls to our hotline," Clark tells SFR, "and right now our hotline is the only way to get ahold of our full time advocates—but because we know isolation leads to increased domestic partner violence, we're very much expecting more of an increase over the next month."
"It's a compounding of traumatic experiences," adds María José Rodríguez Cádiz, Solace's executive director, "that could easily have people feeling that it's just too much, even more so with what we're already coping with."
Rodriguez Cádiz tempers Solace's rising rates by explaining how the center has worked hard to raise awareness in recent years. There are simply more survivors who feel comfortable seeking assistance, she says, but still, "there are going to be certain members of our community who are going to be targeted more often in this particular environment of isolation."
This, she and Clark agree, is why it's vital for Solace to continue offering its services. Many can be offered over the phone, such as the hotline or sessions with advocates. The services that must happen in person—forensic interviews with survivors or sexual assault exams—will be conducted with highly trained personnel. Further, Solace is looking into creating video conferencing sessions and opportunities and, according to Clark, how to better educate those in the community who will continue to interact with others on a regular basis, such as teachers.
"We're trying to increase our education—in partnership with [violence prevention nonprofit] Resolve—with parents and educators," Clark says. "We're anticipating, because this is often the case, that when people come back from breaks, there will be an increase in reporting. We're always busier right after summer break when children are back in schools and reporting what is happening to them while not in those spaces, so we're working with educators and parents about how to respond to a disclosure and how to foster an environment where children know they have personal agency."
Clark says the hotline is open 24 hours a day and is still the quickest way to reach out for help, but the Solace website is also a mere click away. The site, he urges, is also a good resource for people who are concerned someone they know might be facing abuse—in isolation or otherwise—but he does have advice on that front.
"Crimes like sexual and intimate partner violence are bred in silence and isolation so often, so now is the time to be especially vigilant with friends," Clark explains, "in doing that, never speak badly about the person who might be causing them harm, because that can breed further isolation. Try saying things like 'nobody deserves to be harmed,' or 'do you have a way to get out?'"
Of course, it's not all bad news. In its 47 years, Solace (which was known as the Santa Fe Rape Crisis and Trauma Treatment Center until 2010) has done so much for the community, and its employees and advocates are committed to continuing the fight, whether or not we're in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic.
"I was fearful the phone wasn't going to ring, but that's not been the case Rodriguez Cádiz says. "My optimism comes from seeing people reach out, and from having an incredible team of professionals looking ahead. Every day takes a little creativity and going through challenges, but I have no doubts because this particular kind of work is essential."
Solace hotline: 800-721-7273
Solace website: findsolace.org