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GIS pinpoints family violence problem areas in Dona Ana County

Providing family violence outreach and education in rural areas is an on-going challenge for social work providers due to significant expense and the time required to target these areas. A collaborative project, spearheaded by New Mexico State University's School of Social Work and Department of Geography, seeks to identify, address and prevent violence in families in rural Dona Ana County through mapping technology and targeted outreach and education.

Family violence "hotspots" throughout Dona Ana County in 2007.

The Southwest Rural Family Violence Project, in collaboration with Dona Ana Health and Human Services and La Casa, Inc., is a two-year project funded through the U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women. The project uses Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to compile information regarding family violence in rural Dona Ana County to help identify where family violence incidents are occurring so project leaders can develop targeted outreach efforts.

"Family violence problems in rural areas are often hidden because people living in these communities are not aware of the resources available to them or their rights," said Madeline Gillette, project coordinator. "By using GIS mapping we can develop strategies to effectively reach people living in high-risk areas that need our help the most."

In addition to the challenge of reaching rural areas, Dona Ana County also has some unique characteristics that add to these challenges, such as high poverty, low literacy and a large immigrant population. "These additional challenges emphasize the need for effective outreach and education strategies that this project is providing us," said Gillette.

The $500,000 grant was awarded to NMSU in Oct. 2007 and will run through Sept. 2009. Over that time, the project seeks to identify and map the areas of Dona Ana County that have a high incidence of violence in families and domestic violence risk factors, and to target areas identified as high-risk and implement a prevention curriculum and intervention services.

AmeriCorps/VISTA volunteers, three social work students from NMSU, a social worker hired by NMSU and placed at the county and an outreach worker from La Casa have been visiting county community centers in rural areas to assess the need for services and meeting with community members to develop trust and provide crisis intervention services and case management to high-risk areas.

The team has also conducted focus groups in the targeted rural communities to gain information on needs for prevention and to minimize negative feelings of stigmatization. Using community input, a prevention curriculum will be adapted and used across rural parts of Dona Ana County.