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Series: Behavioral Health in Doña Ana County

La Casa’s focus is on domestic violence

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If he could have a conversation with her, the director of Doña Ana County’s domestic-violence prevention program would ask Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham “to shift the focus” to bring more attention and more resources to the issue of domestic violence in Las Cruces and statewide.

“We’re not talking about it at the state level,” said Henry Brutus, who became executive director of La Casa, Inc. in March 2018. “It’s not a priority. We’re waiting until they (victims) come to us.”

One example, Brutus said, is the state’s budget for La Casa and the approximately 30 other domestic-violence prevention programs statewide. The New Mexico Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NMCADV) requested a $3.5 million funding increase in state funding for the programs, which Lujan Grisham included in her 2020 budget. But the Legislative Finance Committee cut the increase to $1.6 million, said NMCADV Executive Director Pam Wiseman. Domestic violence programs currently receive about $11 million in annual funding, which includes a little more than $1 million from the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, Wiseman said.

NMCADV is a nonprofit created in 1979 and based in Albuquerque that “provides support and assistance to domestic violence programs across the state,” according to its mission statement. It includes 31 domestic violence programs in the state plus other interested organizations, Wiseman said.

Domestic violence has “really never gotten attention” statewide, Wiseman said. “People don’t want to talk about it or think about it.”

Law enforcement agencies statewide reported 19,234 incidents of domestic violence in 2017, according the New Mexico Department of Health website.

Nearly 20,700 suspects were named in those incidents, along with more than 21,000 victims, more than 6,700 children were at the scene, 41 percent of the incidents involved injury to the victim, 58 percent involved a weapon, 27 percent involved alcohol and/or drugs and 38 percent resulted in a suspect being arrested.

District courts statewide handled 1,956 cases of domestic violence 2017, with 29 percent resulting in convictions and 54 percent being dismissed. Magistrate courts handled almost 12,000 new domestic violence cases in 2017, with eight percent resulting in convictions and 79 percent being dismissed.

Service providers reported fielding more than 13,000 calls to crisis hotlines in 2017, served nearly 6,500 adult victims of domestic violence, treated about 1,150 offenders and served nearly 2,800 children who were victims of domestic violence.

Brutus said Doña Ana County has the third highest rate of domestic violence per capita among New Mexico’s 33 counties.

The NMDOH report for 2017 included 1,257 cases filed with the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Office, 778 with the Las Cruces Police Department, 22 filed with the New Mexico State Police in Las Cruces, 55 with the Anthony Police Department and nine with the Hatch Police Department. The report said nearly 2,000 domestic violence crisis calls were received in Doña Ana County, 2013-17. Reporting in the county is probably low, he said, because some victims don’t report domestic violence when the abuser is the family breadwinner or if they fear deportation.

La Casa’s shelter in Las Cruces, which can house up to 90 individuals and families, was 95 percent full throughout 2019, Brutus said, and has a waiting list. The program’s available transitional housing is also at capacity, he said.

Men are the abusers in most domestic violence cases (71 percent of victims statewide are female), “but they are absent from conversations” about it, Brutus said. “Why are they not involved in bringing solutions?” he asked.

The impact of domestic violence on children also does not receive the attention it should, Brutus said. “They hear everything,” he said, and “are very sensitive to how their parents are interacting. They’re being impacted as well.”

Poverty can also play a significant role, especially if the abuser is the sole source of a family’s income. It usually takes more than 10 instances of domestic violence for the victim to leave a relationship, Brutus said.

The legal system also needs to do more to help the victims of domestic violence, Brutus said.

La Casa’s program for offenders shows that 80 percent were abused as children or grew up in a home where domestic violence occurred, Brutus said. Many abusers were also the victims of bullying. About 90 percent of La Casa’s clients – victims and offenders – say they wish they had known the program existed when they were children.

Because education is a key component of dealing with domestic violence, Brutus said, La Casa works with school districts in Doña Ana County to help children learn about domestic violence and who they can talk to about it, including school nurses, counselors and teachers.

Brutus said La Casa has “an amazing relationship with the Las Cruces Police Department and has found county Sheriff Kim Stewart “very supportive.”

The good news is that more abusers – both men and women – are seeking services from La Casa, Brutus said. And men who are victims are also beginning to come forward. The La Casa, Inc. shelter includes about a half-dozen male victims, he said.

La Casa, Inc. was founded in 1981 and is the largest domestic violence shelter in New Mexico. La Casa also has an office in Anthony, New Mexico.

Brutus answers to a 10-member board of directors, and he supervises 45 full-time employees, four part-time employees and “hundreds of volunteers. He said the annual client base for La Casa, Inc., exceeds 1,000.

Guided by board President Susana Chaparro, Vice President Terri McBrayer and Treasurer Edward Martinez, Brutus said the other members are Kellie Dinsmore, Angelica Rigales, Robert Sharpe, Annette Morales, Marco Olvera, Alejandra Rosales and Anna Ransom.

For more information, contact Brutus at 575-526-2819 or hbrutus@lacasainc.org. Visit www.lacasainc.org and www.nmcadv.org.

Bulletin Editor Jess Williams contributed to this article.