FARMINGTON — Last week, staff and supporters of Sexual Assault Services of Northwest New Mexico celebrated the opening of a new facility.
The new space at 622 W. Maple St. is 3,200 square feet, which is 1,200 square feet larger than the former office, which was also located on Maple Street. Staff hosted an open house Thursday.
The extra space allows the program to expand its services significantly, said executive director Eleana Butler.
"We can now have counseling on-site, and we're able to expand our prevention team," she said. "It's really allowed us to build our program."
In addition to counseling and advocacy for assault survivors, SAS also provides educational outreach, sending educators as far as Crownpoint and Dulce to teach people how to respond to sexual assault. SAS also runs two prevention programs, Safe Dates in the High Schools and Care for Kids. Care for Kids teaches adults to recognize possible signs of abuse and prevent sexual assaults on children.
"No one can prevent their own sexual assault, especially kids," Butler said. "It's the adult's job to prevent assault; it's not the kids' job. So we're trying to educate the adults."
The agency also offers legal advocates who can walk clients through options in a court case they might bring against an attacker.
"We used to have to refer clients out for things like legal advocacy or counseling, but now everyone who comes in can receive all services here in this office, and that provides more cohesion and follow-up ability for sexual assault survivors," Butler said.
As part of the agency's expansion, Butler hopes to start a rape crisis advocacy program in Gallup in the near future.
SAS typically conducts about 120 post-assault exams per year. The agency also operates a rape crisis hotline 24 hours a day and has on-call specialized nurses who are trained to work with sexual assault survivors and conduct medical and forensic exams to obtain evidence that can be used in future criminal or civil cases.
Rape crisis volunteers also provide support for survivors following a rape or assault.
"Rape and assault can affect someone's ability to attend school or to work," Butler said. "The advocates and volunteers work with the survivor to help them get their life back on track."
Anne Daniels is a nurse practitioner who works as one of the agency's on-call nurses. Daniels, who mostly conducts pediatric exams, said it's heartbreaking to witness the number of sexual assaults that occur in this community.
"It's too bad that (SAS) is needed in our community, but it really is needed," Daniels said. "But this is very rewarding work. This group of people is so amazing, and that's why I do this work."
After a sexual assault, a forensic exam must be conducted within five days for individuals age 13 and older and within three days for those 12 and younger.
"Sometimes, kids don't disclose the assault right away," Butler said. "Often, the assault occurred in the child's home or involved someone he or she knew closely. The child might have been groomed and conditioned not to say anything, so it may take them a few days to report it."
While the exams must be done within a certain time frame, Butler said the other support services SAS offers are available to survivors regardless of when the assault occurred, even if it happened years earlier.
The new location marks the fifth move for SAS, and Butler and her staff hope this will become the agency's permanent location -- or at least until 2020, when the lease runs out. Butler said her agency owes a special thanks to San Juan Regional Medical Center, which has provided the office spaces for SAS.
"From our inception 10 years ago, they've provided space as we've grown, and we wouldn't be able to provide these much-needed services without them," she said.