October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and as a society, we must be committed to say zero tolerance to domestic violence. We know victims of domestic violence are beaten and killed every day by partners who claim to love them. We’ve seen it in our community this year.
Domestic violence is a complex and serious crime and there are no easy answers. Remarks that question or blame the victim — such as “why doesn’t she just leave?” — dismiss the level of control and power the abuser has in these relationships.
I was in an abusive relationship in the 80s and endured isolation, mental, emotional, sexual and physical abuse. He was a personal trainer for police officers, high school coaches, and some college football players. He made me think that no one would believe me if I spoke out about the abuse. On one occasion, after he busted my lip, the cops were called by a neighbor. The officer who spoke to me stated my then-husband was “a cool guy” who “promised … he would go spend the night with a friend, to calm down.” My husband returned that same night and laughingly told me, “I told you I have lots of cop friends and they will believe me, not you.”
Over the five years I was with him, the abuse escalated. Even after I divorced him, he returned and beat me one last time with intent to truly hurt me…no…kill me.
I survived and have devoted 38 years of my life to working with victims impacted by domestic violence. For those of us that work in this field, we know that stalkers and individuals who hurt their victims by strangulation are cases that more likely will end up in homicide. In September, we all heard about Kim Yacone, who was shot to death inside her home, allegedly by her husband. Police had investigated earlier domestic violence claims within the Yacone home, but nothing came of it.
Kim’s death prompted me to write this letter. Unless this community comes together to ensure victim safety and hold offenders accountable, we will not see a decline of these kind of homicides.
In solidarity with the families of those that have lost loved ones to abuse, I challenge the Las Cruces community to work toward a system that will allow community partners provide interagency, coordinated responses to domestic violence.
What can we do? Law enforcement needs updated domestic violence training to better understand coercion control. Teachers and service providers need to better understand the signs of domestic violence. The District Attorney’s Office needs to hold abusers accountable before it’s too late.
So, there is a model that has demonstrated effectiveness. A Coordinated Community Response Team is composed of multidisciplinary teams that often use the full extent of the community’s legal system to protect victims, hold batterers accountable and enforce the community’s intolerance of domestic violence.
Las Cruces already has the Domestic Violence Sexual Assault Task Force, where we have representatives from the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Office, Las Cruces Police Department, the District Attorney’s Office, La Piñon, La Casa, CYFD/CPS, FBI, schools, Catholic Charities other service providers. This group has individuals that are passionate and devoted to making a difference. Family members of those who have lost loved ones to domestic violence can join and be part of this group. Make your voice heard.
There is help available. In Las Cruces, contact La Casa at 575-526-9513. The New Mexico Coalition Against Domestic Violence can be reached at 800-799-7233. The national domestic violence hotline is 800-799-7233.
Pat Acosta identifies herself as a chicana activist/advocate. She is the supervisor for the Youth Development Diversion Program with the City of Las Cruces.