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Farmington police to receive violence against individuals with disabilities awareness training

Santa Fe, NM, August 5, 2010 – The kidnapping, assault, and branding with a swastika of a young Native American man with developmental disabilities in Farmington on May 7 is just the latest example of the hate, bias and other violent crimes committed against people with disabilities across the country and around the world.

Now Farmington police are taking steps to more effectively identify, respond to and serve New Mexicans with disabilities. All 130 officers are scheduled to take part in training being provided by the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, Inc. (NMCSAP) in collaboration with Soulful Presence next week, Aug 10-11, on site, at the Farmington Police Department.

TThe training is part of long-term efforts to train law enforcement personnel and other first responders spearheaded by the NMCSAP and Soulful Presence. A New Mexico Department of Health Office of Injury Prevention grant secured by the NMCSAP will allow the Farmington Police to benefit from the training without incurring expense for the department.

The NMCSAP is a non-profit sexual assault organization. One of their goals is to assist criminal justice professionals in the assessment, prosecution, and treatment of sexual abuse and assault cases. As the Executive Director of Soulful Presence and Project Director for the disability awareness training programs provided with the NMCSAP, Marcie Davis called on Farmington’s police chief immediately after the recent violent incident to offer assistance. The chief enthusiastically accepted.

Besides offering in-person training with national experts such as Scott Modell, Ph.D., a professor at California State University and recognized national expert in violence against individuals with disabilities, the services provided by the NMCSAP and Soulful Presence include the development of a series of training DVDs which are being distributed to 134 law enforcement agencies in the state of New Mexico later this year.

“Although awareness is being raised and progress has been made, too many New Mexicans with disabilities still remain invisible to the criminal justice system,” said Davis. “That’s why we are committed to developing and delivering training programs to the law enforcement community.”

For the 54.4 million Americans with disabilities, the risk of being a victim of crime, especially a victim of sexual assault, is four to 10 times higher than those without disabilities. The rate of people with disabilities is greater in NM than in the general U.S. population. The NM Department of Health’s Disability in New Mexico reported in 2002 that approximately 25% of the state’s adult population had a significant disability.

“All too often the civil and human rights of individuals with disabilities are violated by law enforcement because of misconceptions and ignorance. This training is a step toward changing that. It is only through understanding individual differences that we will truly learn to respect the diversity in our community,” said Patricia Ziegler, Director of the San Juan Center for Independence.

“It is critical that law enforcement personnel are trained to recognize when a person with a disability is a victim of a crime. Otherwise, disabilities can be mistaken for intoxication due to alcohol or drugs, and the person may not get the help they need,” said Eleana Butler, Executive Director of Sexual Assault Services of Northwest New Mexico. “Training like this will help law enforcement identify and better serve people with disabilities. Our ultimate goal is that violence against all people, including those with disabilities, stops.”

Davis, who has worked for years on issues relating to violence against people with disabilities, was appalled by the latest incident in the state she calls home. But she also sees that something positive can come from it. “If we can raise awareness of this issue, which is not one specific to New Mexico but something that is happening worldwide, we can start to reduce violence against people with disabilities, and give more people the power to raise their independence and their quality of life.”

The New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, Inc. (NMCSAP) is a non-profit sexual assault organization whose mission is to provide services to victims of sexual violence, training and information to service providers who work with adult, youth, and child sexual assault victims, and to assist criminal justice professionals in the assessment, prosecution, and treatment of sexual abuse and assault cases. The NMCSAP was created in 1978 to fulfill the mandates created by the New Mexico Legislature’s 1978 Sexual Crimes Prosecution and Treatment Act. Since then, the NMCSAP has become the leader in sexual assault prevention, education of sexual assault nurse examiners, law enforcement, court personnel, prosecutors, victim advocates, and other medical and social service providers.

Soulful Presence was founded by Marcie Davis, a Santa Fe businesswoman and wheelchair user, who also advocates for people with disabilities in the US and abroad. Soulful Presence’s mission is to empower underserved populations by creating awareness and advancing policy, research, education, and social action. The organization has undertaken trips to Cameroon to deliver wheelchairs, medical equipment and medical aid to improve life for Tikar and Pygmy people with disabilities. Soulful Presence has also established the Cissy Vargas Scholarship Fund to encourage graduates of Taos High School to complete their special education degrees and to serve their community by giving back to others with intellectual disabilities.

For more information contact: Marcie Davis at 505-982-1977.