Q&A: Pamela Wiseman of the New Mexico Coalition Against Domestic Violence
This is the third in a series of articles highlighting statewide efforts to combat family and sexual violence. The first two installments looked at Alaska's Choose Respect campaign and the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Pamela Wiseman rejects the idea that domestic violence is a single, discrete issue. As executive director of the New Mexico Coalition Against Domestic Violence, she knows that young people who witness violence at home are less likely to succeed in school, and more likely to develop health problems and commit violence themselves as adults.
Like Alaska (whose anti-domestic violence campaign we recently profiled), New Mexico is largely rural and ethnically diverse. So Wiseman says her private nonprofit that trains and supports a network of 31 direct care providers focuses on empowering them to help their neighbors. Wiseman spoke with NCFY about her efforts to get New Mexicans to tackle this issue from the ground up, from holding online trainings to hiring children’s advocates for family shelters.
NCFY: What is your most urgent work in New Mexico right now?
Wiseman: The Annie E. Casey foundation ranks states according to overall welfare of children, and we’d been 49th for a number of years. But this year we became 50th. Domestic violence is at the root of all the things that plague this state. Trauma leads to drug abuse, low educational attainment, a sense of hopelessness. And the experience of Native Americans here obviously includes hundreds of years of trauma and abuse as well.
There’s also a lot of serious isolation. You can drive for hours and not see anyone. So we work with 31 partner agencies around the state: we train, we do consultations, and we also advocate policy issues and legislation to the state government. Through our conferences and webinars, we provide a way for all these agencies to collaborate with each other and with state-level organizations. But mainly we’re focused on children right now, because if you can help them early on you might be able to prevent some of these negative consequences 40, 50 years down the road.
NCFY: How have you gone about focusing on children?
Wiseman: We received funding to put a children’s counselor in many of our programs. Even though these places see quite a few children, most couldn’t afford to have someone in there who deals solely with kids. But children need that kind of intervention [when they witness domestic violence]. We’ve also worked with Head Start and different in-home caretakers and visitors, training them in how to identify and deal with domestic violence.
We’ve also had several meetings with animal welfare agencies, because animals are part of the family and so important to children. In such a rural state, people have everything from horses and goats to smaller pets. If your child has a puppy and the abuser threatens to kill it, it’s traumatizing and it’s a barrier to leaving for help if you don’t have a place to put your animal. So we’re fighting for regional animal shelters so that victims can put them there for a short time if they relocate.
NCFY: How have family and youth workers been involved in this fight?
Wiseman: A lot of the work today has to do with improving communication—messaging. We know that 70 percent of victims never go anywhere for help, and that’s sometimes because the way we talk about it doesn’t seem relevant to them. Many of our community partners are attending our upcoming summit on how to talk about domestic violence effectively.
Rural communities are close-knit, so if someone’s being abused, they may find the community turns against them if they tell. Families may turn against them. People don’t identify as victims. If we show pictures of people who have been abused it might alienate people who haven’t reached that level. So our family and youth workers are trying to be more open and flexible in the way we define domestic violence.