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November conference to focus on domestic violence and sexual assault issues

FARMINGTON — The 11th annual Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Conference will be Nov. 5 and 6 at the Farmington Civic Center, and organizers are asking those interested in attending to register now.

The conference is presented by the San Juan County Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Task Force, which is made up of several agencies including Desert View Family Counseling, Family Crisis Center, and Farmington Police Department. The event will provide basic training on how to work with survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. While geared for those who work in this area, the conference is open to the public.

Both days will include presentations on issues such as therapeutic methods to help survivors deal with trauma, as well as topics such as how domestic violence affects children. The conference will also include a “Law Enforcement Track,” with presentations from various law enforcement experts from around the state. Topics such as “Habitual Domestic Violence Offenders,” which focuses on how victims often have a false sense of “lethality control” and can lose their “fight or flight” instinct; and “Abuse After the Breakup,” which examines the fact that many abusive situations do not end after a break-up and can, in fact, become worse or become less predictable.

Rick Quevedo, director of Desert View Family Counseling, said the training provided at the annual conference is something local providers count on each year.

“There really isn’t a lot of inexpensive training on these issues in our area,” he said. “In past years, the conference focused more on prevention, but I feel that this year we’re looking at how to address peoples’ long-term needs, as well.”

Quevedo said the conference will include discussion of a new treatment method that has had some success with those who have been through trauma. The treatment is called Eye Movement Desensitization and Retraining, or EMDR, and involves having the person who experienced the trauma recall the upsetting incident while receiving different levels of auditory and visual stimuli. While the therapist talks to the patient about the negative trauma, he or she slowly changes the tone and the light the patient is experiencing.

“It helps the person learn to re-process the memory and replace it with an association that’s more positive,” said Quevedo.

Another conference organizer, Eleana Butler, is the Sexual Assault Services executive director. Butler says EMDR has helped many of the clients her organization deals with.

“It’s been very effective, and in fact our agency now has a counselor who’s an expert at using it,” she said. “The treatment helps the brain learn not to react as strongly to triggers.”

Butler said such trauma triggers can include sights, smells, or sounds that the person associates with the trauma.

“One therapist worked with a man who found himself in a phone booth and didn’t know how he got there or how to get out,” she said. “After treatment, he remembered that he had been walking down the street when he noticed a Vietnamese restaurant on the side of the street, which triggered a memory of a restaurant blowing up on the street years ago while he was in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. The trigger of seeing the restaurant caused him to hide in the phone booth, even though he had no conscious memory of going in there.”

Butler said she is particularly excited about the law enforcement tracks being offered at the upcoming conference.

“We really tried to cater to law enforcement, and tried to balance the presentations between domestic violence and sexual assault,” she said.

Butler said her agency sees 120 to 130 cases of sexual assault a year. Staff is available to provide help to assault survivors regardless of the circumstances surrounding the assault, she said.

“It doesn’t matter what the circumstances were or how long ago it occurred. Even if it’s been twenty years, we are here to provide help,” she said.

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