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Justice department grant to help NMSU pinpoint pockets of domestic violence

A $500,000 grant will help New Mexico State University's School of Social Work identify pockets of domestic violence in Dona Ana County's rural areas and implement prevention and education programs.

Left to right: Martha Roditti and Madeline Gillette of the NMSU School of Social Work discuss domestic violence in Dona Ana County's rural areas with Silvia Sierra, director of the Dona Ana County Health and Human Services Department (Courtesy photo)

Funding for the Southwest Rural Family Violence Data Development, Prevention and Outreach Project comes from the U.S. Department of Justice's Office on Violence against Women. The project, which began this month, is expected to be completed in September 2009.

"We have not had this level of grant before," said Martha Roditti, the project's principal investigator and a professor of social work. "This is a unique, dramatic project that will let people know the School of Social Work is committed to the community through its outreach and advocacy."

By working with the NMSU Department of Geography, Dona Ana County Health and Human Services Department, and La Casa, a domestic violence service agency, the School of Social Work will identify rural county areas with a high incidence of family violence and domestic risk factors. The team then will implement a prevention curriculum and intervention services in places that are identified as high-risk areas.

In coordination with the project, Dona Ana County's Geographic Information Systems (GIS) will compile data on family violence incidents, demographic information related to family violence risk factors, police reports of domestic disturbances, child abuse reports and county DWI factors. By using GIS, the project will be able to pinpoint "hot spots" - places in the county with a higher than average number of risky events and areas with a higher than average risk of victimization. After locating the hot spots, domestic violence prevention and intervention programs can be introduced to these rural areas by social work students working with community representatives. The need to keep the victims' names and other demographic data confidential is essential for respectful work with people in the community, said Roditti.

"It will be a lot of work to geo-code the information," Roditti said. "We plan on collecting important sources of data immediately so we have the project structure in place to begin working with the community."

After the data has been compiled, the project will then focus on infusing prevention and outreach services in the targeted areas and developing a training curriculum for the communities. A team of three NMSU social work students, a social worker hired by NMSU to work with the county, a La Casa outreach worker and 14 county AmeriCorps/VISTA volunteers will visit the rural areas' community centers. They will assess each community's need for services, develop trust with community members, and provide crisis intervention and case management services to high-risk families. Focus groups will determine each community's prevention needs and work to minimize feelings of stigmatization. Community input will help La Casa create a prevention curriculum for use by the rural communities. Even though some of the curriculum will be in English, most of it will be in Spanish.

"We want to make sure the communities don't feel like we're doing this to reflect negatively or poorly on them," said Madeline Gillette, project coordinator. "By using community-based or participatory planning, the community will be involved as much as possible. This will give them some involvement in the planning process. If they're involved and feel that what we're doing is in a sensitive manner, then they will be interested in what we find."

Gillette said the project has given her ideas for other research in which data from domestic violence reports can be used to help create preventative measures.

"I'd like to find out who is calling the police and reporting domestic violence," she said.
"Is it usually the victim? Is it usually a neighbor? It would be interesting to compare these data with reports phoned in to the city police. There's a hypothesis that domestic violence gets reported more in poorer neighborhoods because houses are more closely together and neighbors are more likely to call the police. It would be interesting to see if we could confirm that."