Trauma is an underground river: On Charlottesville, Healing, and Transformative Justice

TRIGGER WARNING: Charlottesville attack, white supremacist violence, physical harm

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Almost two years later, I still think about Charlottesville nearly every day. I hear the sickening thud thud thud thud thud of the car hitting people in rapid succession. I see projectiles in the air that my mind could only register at the time as bricks, not what they actually were: shoes knocked off feet from force of impact. I feel the shock of my body hitting the pavement as I tried to run. I remember the fleeting sense that this was where I was going to die. Trampled.

When I consider the arc of trauma in my life, Charlottesville looms large. Most days, it sits on my right shoulder; a dull ache and stiffness from being injured that day. On better days, it slumbers just beneath the surface. I’m not sure it was the hardest thing I’ve ever survived, but it was one of the most terrifying.

Charlottesville is for me both a shared trauma and a private one. I share the experience with the others who were there, and in a different way with the millions of people whose hearts squeezed tight when they bore witness to the horror through captured images. My love is the only person also there on that day with whom I’ve processed what happened. Only she knows how often those pictures hover in my mind’s eye and make my heart squeeze again.

Trauma is an underground river. It winds through invisible passages below the surface, often snaking quietly. Sometimes, though, it roils.

Two weeks ago, my love and I watched BlackKKlansman together. We knew ahead of time that Spike Lee had inserted footage from Charlottesville at the end of his film to illustrate how little has changed since the 70s. We prepared ourselves. It had been nearly 2 years; I thought I was ready to see the footage again with some detachment. But of course, I wasn’t. As we watched the grey Dodge Charger slam into the crowd, nausea rose up in me. My heart drummed like a hummingbird’s wings as I tried to steady my breath. My heart beats just as fast now as write this.

A similar-looking grey Dodge Charger picks up a student at our son’s high school on a regular basis. I’ve noticed it every Monday and Tuesday at 2:15pm in car line since the beginning of the semester. When its rumbling engine revs, it sickens me a little. The rational part of my brain knows it’s not the same car, but the primal part of my brain, the part designed to keep me alive, does not.

When the movie ended, my love and I rewound BlackKKlansman and watched the drone footage of the attack over and over again, pausing and searching the image for ourselves. Looking from that vantage point—a bird’s eye view—that blur there…was that us? Right there in the middle of the intersection? We must have rewound it at least 5 times, feeling grateful for the two cars that impeded his rampage and saved our lives, and sorrow for those who were caught between us and him.

We didn’t know at the time whether this was a single incident or the beginning of more attacks. We wanted to remain alive for our 3 amazing kids and the others we love, so we didn’t stay at the intersection after it happened. I still feel guilt for leaving the scene of the carnage. I wonder if the guy in the grey Dodge Charger feels his heart heavy with remorse looking back, or if he still feels justified in trying to murder as many of us as possible. I’d like to think that time for reflection has helped change his mind.

My father died a year before Charlottesville. I fell asleep many nights as my brain replayed how I held his hand after he died, my grief crystallizing as his body grew cold and stiff. It’s a memory weighted with gratitude but mostly deep sadness and loss. I wouldn’t try to summon the memory; it would just show up and take a stroll through my mind’s eye and my heart as I tried to drift off. After Charlottesville, my falling-asleep brain switched channels and started replaying Charlottesville over and over instead of my dead father. I felt relieved, in a way, for new images to fall asleep to. I wonder how morbid this would sound if I ever said it out loud.

My love and I recently honeymooned on the Yucatán Peninsula. It was magical. One day, we explored a cenote in the middle of the jungle. A cenote is a sinkhole that exposes groundwater underneath when the limestone rock above collapses. We swam through the underground cave, enveloped by a darkness so deep it felt palpable. It was other-worldly and yet not far from the 10-passenger Eurovan that brought us there. Creatures thrive there that are not meant to survive the light of day.

I wonder if a cenote is an apt metaphor for collective trauma: an interlocking network of unmapped underground rivers revealed only when the weight of the earth on top becomes too much to bear. Then again, maybe it’s a metaphor for grief.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what accountability and repair should look like in the wake of harm. I’m sure many others who live in Virginia have too, ever since the Governor’s yearbook was made public with racist images and the Lt. Governor was reported by two women to have sexually assaulted them. Both are serious harms, rooted in different kinds of interlocking, systemic oppressions. What should happen when harms like these come to light is not an easy question to answer.

I’ve worked in the movement to end gender-based violence since I was a student at Oberlin College. It’s the only profession I’ve ever known. In the 1990s, we fought hard for sexual violence and domestic violence to be taken seriously. Rape is a violation and should be a crime in all circumstances, no matter your relationship with the person who hurt you. If a man beat his wife, he should expect the full force of the community to come knocking at his door. Making something a crime affirmed that it was a serious matter and should be treated seriously. We said, “perpetrators need to be held accountable”, but often what we really were saying was “perpetrators should go to jail.” We began to conflate taking responsibility with punishment. We began to conflate accountability with incarceration.

I know now that we were mistaken.

We knew the criminal legal system could deliver neither accountability for perpetrators nor healing for survivors…or we should have known. Women of color—in particular our Black sisters in the movement—cautioned us again and again not to choose this path, and we failed to listen.

Accountability is an active process that requires the person who has committed harm to take responsibility, acknowledge the impact, express remorse, and commit never to engage in the harm again. None of those things happen when someone is incarcerated. Incarceration punishes and isolates; it does not help us find our humanity–whether we are the ones on the inside of the bars or the outside. The system wasn’t built to help us heal.

IMG_6597Now, 25 years later, I and others in this work have started to reckon with this legacy: how and why did we manage to turn a movement that once held up liberation as our bright future into a profession that is so invested in and bound up with a system that puts people in cages[i]? How could we think more police, more prisons would bring freedom?

Almost everyone who commits violence has also survived it[ii]. How does it shift our perceptions when we stop thinking of someone as either a perpetrator or a survivor and embrace the complexity that most people who use violence are both/and? How would it change my perception of the driver of the grey Dodge Charger if I learned about the trauma he survived before he drove his car into a crowd of people? Knowing wouldn’t mitigate the harm, but perhaps it would shape a path forward beyond containment and retribution.

We’ve built a prison nation by incarcerating more people than any other country in the world. We treat people of color, poor people, people who are trying to migrate to save their families, and other historically oppressed communities as though they are disposable, and it diminishes our humanity. I often think about how my life would be different if I were seen only as the worst thing I’ve ever done, if I were never given the chance to grow and do better. What if everyone were given grace to fail and learn from it. What if we chose all of us[iii]?

I believe in redemption, change, and forgiveness, and I think and talk about it a lot with my friends and colleagues who strive for what we call a “radically hopeful future”: one in which we all thrive.

img_6595.pngBut if I’m honest, I don’t think I’ve ever really put those beliefs to the test. I may be able to think of the 20-year-old driver of the grey Dodge Charger as a wounded person, but can I also see him as someone capable of redemption? What would Marissa Blair and Marcus Martin, two people who were directly in his path, need from him, if anything, for healing and repair? What about the family of Heather Heyer, who died at the scene? Here we encounter one of the complexities of trauma, healing, and repair: each person’s experience and needs are different.

I recently read a piece written by a man who tried to kill a police officer when he was 17. Twenty years later, he and the officer met at the officer’s request. The man who wrote it is serving a life sentence for attempted murder. He apologized to the officer for the pain he caused him and his family, sobbing from the weight of his guilt and shame. He said the meeting was the best day of his life. I don’t know, but I imagine something lifted in the officer’s heart too. Perhaps the encounter was transformative for both of them.

We can and should ask more from people who commit harm, more than asking them to sit in a cell and live out their punishment. I wonder if we can think more deeply and with more complexity about justice, accountability, and healing in the aftermath of harm. Something beyond punishment and retribution. Something that strives to maintain the humanity and compassion that we’re all capable of giving and worthy of receiving. Something that could transform us collectively.

I wonder if we could truly stop seeing anyone as disposable, and begin to see all of us as worthy, no matter how badly we fail, how many we hurt. I wonder what would happen if we commit to choose all of us. I wonder how that might change us.

 

Kate McCord is the Movement Strategy & Communications Director for the Action Alliance and has been working in the movement to end gender-based violence for over 25 years. Kate is working with other coalition leaders across the country to mobilize toward a future in which all of us have what we need to thrive. She first wrote about her experiences in #Charlottesville in a blog post dated August 15, 2017.

#charlottesville #transformativejustice #accountability #harm​​ #whitesupremacist #domesticterrorism


Featured image: Kate McCord

Notes:

[i] Credit to Dr. Mimi Kim for unveiling this concept. Also see Dr. Kim’s related, fascinating paper, Dancing the Carceral Creep: The Anti-Domestic Violence Movement and the Paradoxical Pursuit of Criminalization, 1973 – 1986.

[ii] Danielle Sered, Common Justice. See her powerful 1-minute video here, a longer talk about “Violence, Restoration, and Accountability” (starting at 11:50) here, and a great podcast, On Restorative Justice: What Justice Could Look Like, featuring Danielle Sered and Sonya Shah.

[iii] “We choose all of us” is a sentiment first shared by one of my teachers, Norma Wong. Inspired by Norma’s words, the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence has created the beautiful “We Choose All Of Us” Campaign, a middle school and high school campaign to deepen our connections with one another and nurture transformative culture shifts.

TransformHarm.org is a resource hub about ending violence. It offers an introduction to transformative justice. Created by Mariame Kaba and designed by Joseph Lublink, the site includes selected articles, audio-visual resources, curricula, and more.


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An Advocate’s Guide to the 2019 General Assembly Session  

It’s safe to say that Virginia’s 2019 General Assembly session will largely be remembered for the scandals that extended far beyond Capitol Square. Issues of race, sexual assault, and abortion access have put Virginia’s lawmakers and policy leaders at the center of ongoing nation-wide conversations on harm, healing, and those social and health policy issues that shape our communities. In case you missed it, the Action Alliance has released several statements, calling on advocates and social justice allies to address the injurious legacy of racism and white supremacy in Virginia and to seize these public conversations on sexual violence and harm as opportunities to ground ourselves in a collective mission of building a culture of consent and disentangling our accountability processes from that of the criminal justice system.

Despite the political scandals having marred this session, lawmakers did pass notable measures on topics ranging from consent education to electoral access and environmental justice. The following is a run-down of some of those measures that impact the sexual and domestic violence field directly and others that promote the world that the Action Alliance and our member-agencies are committed to building together. Please note, for information on specific bills that the Action Alliance supported and opposed this session, see the 2019 General Assembly Report.

ANIMAL CRUELTY IN THE CONTEXT OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

Two bills were introduced this session that would have recognized violations related to animal cruelty carried out with the intent to threaten, intimidate, coerce, harass, or terrorize an intimate partner. These bills were incorporated into another bill – referred to by animal rights activists as “Tommie’s Law” – which creates a Class 6 felony penalty for cruelly or unnecessarily beating, maiming, mutilating, or killing an animal.

 

BAIL & CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

While a major focus of the 2018 session was reaching bipartisan consensus on modest increases to Virginia’s larceny threshold, criminal justice reform measures this year were largely put on the backburner. Measures to support data transparency with regards to Virginia’s pretrial detention/cash bail system were quickly defeated in both the House and Senate, in addition to broadening both discretionary parole for juvenile offenders and expungement for certain offenders. Meanwhile, the General Assembly moved to require the Department of Corrections begin reporting population statistics of those incarcerated in state correctional institutions, including making statistics available on offenders placed in and released from restrictive housing and Shared Allied Management Units.

 

CONSENT EDUCATION

Legislators approved measures to require Virginia’s high school family life education (FLE) curriculum to incorporate programs on the law and meaning of consent. Under current law, such elements are permissive in any high school FLE curriculum and those school districts that teach this content most effectively do so by partnering with their local sexual and domestic violence agencies.

 

CUSTODY & VISITATION

Every session, there are dozens of bills filed that would have negative impacts on child custody and visitation proceedings/outcomes for survivors who are parents. This year was no different. The Action Alliance spent a significant amount of energy working with allied advocacy agencies and bill patrons alike to prevent the introduction of a set of vague and inconsistent definitions of domestic abuse into the best interests of the child custody factors. Another measure introduced and thankfully defeated would have created an “equal or maximized parenting time” presumption clause in the best interests of the child custody factors – providing judges with the direction to consider maximizing parent-child time in cases “where appropriate”.

 

ELECTORAL ACCESS

While a large majority of this year’s measures to increase poll access, promote campaign transparency, and lift voting restrictions were dead on arrival, the legislature did pass no-excuse absentee voting. The passed legislation creates a seven-day window before an election in which voters can cast ballots in person without having to give an excuse. Enactment of this legislation will not go into effect until the 2020 election.

 

ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE

The General Assembly backed bipartisan legislation to hold Dominion Energy accountable for cleaning up toxic coal ash (a byproduct of burning coal). The legislation will soon be signed by the governor and will require the complete excavation of more than 28 million tons of toxic coal ash that Dominion currently stores at Chesterfield Power Station, Chesapeake Energy Center, Possum Point Power Station, and Bremo Power Station. This will help to protect the clean water and the health of families that live near these coal ash ponds. For more on environmental justice measures introduced this session, see the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy’s recap here.

 

EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT RATIFICATION

Virginia did not become the 38th state to ratify the ERA. The Senate passed a ratification measure, but it was defeated in a House Privileges and Elections Subcommittee chaired by Delegate Margaret Ransone. A procedural move aimed at bringing the ratification measure to the House floor, championed by Delegate Hala Ayala, was both hotly debated and narrowly defeated late in the session.

ERA Rally

Action Alliance staff members attended an ERA rally in Richmond, February 2019.

FIREARMS ACCESS

This session – like in sessions past – nearly every significant measure seeking to reduce offender access to firearms, prevent intimate partner homicide, and keep communities safe was blocked by the House and Senate. Including several bills that would have expanded firearm prohibitions to permanent protective orders, applied penalties for non-compliance with firearm surrender/seizure processes, provided communities with guidance on firearm surrender/seizure when necessary, and established emergency risk protection orders in an effort to increase bystander capacity to recognize and respond to red flags for escalating and lethal violence in communities.

 

HOUSING STABILITY

A package of bills aimed at reducing the likelihood of an eviction among low-income Virginians – the product of policy recommendations from the Virginia Housing Commission – has been cleared by the Virginia legislature and signed by the Governor. Virginia localities, including Richmond and the Hampton Roads area, have some of the highest eviction rates in the nation and the Governor has made expanding access to affordable housing a priority of his administration. These efforts certainly support survivors who often find themselves facing financial and housing instability as a direct result of the violence they’ve experienced.

 

IMMIGRANT ADVOCACY

The legislature blocked measures to grant immigrant communities access to driver-privilege cards, in-state tuition for DACA eligible students, and other legislation that would have supported connected and thriving communities. Most concerning is that the final state budget approved by the House and Senate eliminated funding for Census outreach in the Commonwealth, a move that will undermine a fair and accurate count of Virginians.

 

LYNCHING & VIRGINIA’S LEGACY OF RACIAL VIOLENCE

The House and Senate passed resolutions in which the General Assembly acknowledges “with profound regret the existence and acceptance of lynching within the Commonwealth” and calls for reconciliation among all Virginians. To this end, there were a number of impassioned floor speeches and testimonies provided by Delegates and Senators alike this session. In case you missed it, here is Delegate Jay Jones’ speech on the deep impact of racism in Virginia, promoting healing, and working to bridge racial divides and unify our Commonwealth.

 

PROTECTIVE ORDERS

Every session, there are dozens of proposed changes made to protective order (PO) statutes. In 2019, legislators agreed on several changes/updates to the process. One bill clarifies that if a court is lawfully closed and a full hearing for a preliminary protective order cannot be held within 15 days of the issuance, the hearing will be held on the next day that courts are open. Another change to current PO statutes requires any elementary or secondary school principle – who has an enrolled student for which a judge, court, or magistrate has issued a protective order for the protection of the child – to notify school personnel/educators who would have legitimate interest in such information that an order has been issued. This legislation also requires Virginia Board of Education to establish guidelines and develop model policies to aid school boards in the implementation of such notification. Finally, another bill requires that when a preliminary protective order is issued in an ex parte hearing where the petition for the order is not supported by an affidavit, the court issuing the order state the basis of the order including a summary of the allegations made and the court’s findings.

In the gallery

Action Alliance staff and members were recognized in the House Gallery this session during Legislative Advocacy Day in January.

REDISTRICTING

After several judicial interventions and over a year of pressure placed on Virginia’s lawmakers, a deal was struck to create a 16-member redistricting commission that would redraw the state’s legislative and congressional district boundaries, with a focus on correcting racial gerrymandering, after the 2020 census.

 

REPRODUCTIVE & SEXUAL HEALTH FOR SURVIVORS

Unfortunately, all of our priority bills (and those championed by our policy partners) were defeated this session. Including measures to expand the Family Medical Leave Act, repealing Virginia’s burdensome TRAP restrictions, as well as removing medically-unnecessary requirements currently placed upon Virginians seeking abortion care, enshrining access to birth control and bodily autonomy in our code, expanding ACA provisions for no-copay insurance coverage to include a broader host of reproductive health care services, and more.

 

SCHOOL SAFETY

A special committee on school/public safety convened shortly after last year’s deadly school shooting in Parkland, FL and produced a list of significant policy recommendations for Virginia’s legislators going into the 2019 session. Some of these recommendations, including changes to training for administrators and improving Virginia’s student-to-counselor ratio, passed the legislature.

 

SEXUAL ASSAULT RESPONSE & SERVICES

Three notable measures backed by the General Assembly this session will serve to provide sexual assault survivors with greater access to services and protection while supporting coordinated community responses to these issues. One bill directs the Virginia Crime Commission to study statewide access to forensic nurse examiners with a focus on recommendations for improving access statewide. Another bill removes Sexual Assault Response Teams and Multidisciplinary Child Sexual Abuse Teams from the list of those public entities subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. And finally, new legislation will prohibit employers from requiring employees to execute or renew any provision in a nondisclosure or confidentiality agreement that has the purpose or effect of concealing claims of sexual assault.

 

TRAUMA TO PRISON PIPELINE

While advocates during the 2018 session were largely successful in setting the stage for significant advances with regards to dismantling the trauma to prison pipeline in Virginia, legislators struck down most reasonable policy advancements on these issues in 2019. Measures to protect students from being charged with “disorderly conduct,” which is a misdemeanor and can come with a fine of up to $2,500 and up to a year in jail, were blocked this session.

For information on specific bills, including those that the Action Alliance supported and opposed this session, see our 2019 General Assembly Report.


Jonathan Yglesias is the Policy Director at the Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance where he works with a team of advocates, movement minds, attorneys, and passionate policy nerds to coordinate the Action Alliance’s public policy efforts on behalf of survivors, sexual and domestic violence agencies, and communities in Virginia seeking to improve the prevention of and response to sexual and domestic violence. 

Building a Culture of Consent in Virginia

These past few weeks in Virginia politics have not been easy. It started with a manufactured scandal surrounding Delegate Kathy Tran’s bill that would have repealed harmful TRAP laws on abortion access, including 24-hour waiting periods, requirements to obtain multiple layers of physician consent, and requirements that second-trimester abortions take place in a hospital. Soon after this, Governor Ralph Northam’s 1984 yearbook page surfaced featuring people in blackface and KKK attire. Just a few days later, Attorney General Mark Herring, who had joined in the chorus of statements urging for the resignation of Governor Northam, also admitted to donning blackface. And now, two survivors have bravely come forward to share their accounts of being sexually assaulted by Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax.

As these painful conversations continue to play out, the Action Alliance has released several statements, calling on advocates and social justice allies to address the injurious legacy of racism and white supremacy in Virginia and to seize these public conversations on sexual violence and harm as opportunities to ground ourselves in a collective mission of building a culture of consent and disentangling our accountability processes from that of the criminal justice system.

As a statewide voice on issues of sexual and domestic violence, the Action Alliance works for a radically different future where survivors are met with compassion and respect and where public conversations on harm focus on reparation and healing and on the need to invest in sexual violence prevention.

Committing ourselves to sexual violence prevention and building a culture of consent

In the age of #MeToo, we as a society are finally grappling with what community accountability might look like for those who do harm and the importance of believing survivors. These are long overdue and critical conversations to have. However, what this age of reckoning and justice-seeking also calls on us to do is to explore the nuances of cultural norms that might nurture a future in which every person has the knowledge and skills necessary to practice informed, ongoing, and enthusiastic consent. This is the antidote to sexual violence and we believe every human is deserving of experiencing healthy and joyful sexuality, centered in pleasure.

Wood word yes on a grey background

If healthy, violence-free relationships are our collective desire, then the conversation around harm can shift to focusing on how we might channel that desire into building a world in which these healthy, violence-free relationships and interactions are the norm. Here are just a few ideas for how we might call on our neighbors, families, communities, and policy leaders to invest in the prevention of sexual violence and build a culture of consent:

Provide opportunities for consent education and healthy sexuality to be taught early, often, and in multifaceted and developmentally appropriate ways in our families, schools, and communities.

Call on policy leaders to invest in sexual violence prevention and promote thriving communities in which healthy sexuality and healthy relationships are core values.

  • Ask policy leaders and stakeholders to provide schools with the resources they need to teach Family Life Education/Sex education effectively.
  • Review Virginia’s Family Life Education curricula and talk to teachers, administrators, and students about whether this education is consistent with over 30 years of research + best practices in behavior-change and health promotion.
  • Support every community in the Commonwealth having access to sexual violence prevention programming. Currently, only 6 communities in Virginia are funded by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention for this life-saving work.
  • Call on policy leaders to support funding for community-based Sexual & Domestic Violence Agencies to build and sustain prevention programming. There are no dedicated state funds for the prevention of sexual violence in Virginia.
  • Ensure that policy leaders are investing in accessible healthcare, including preventative care, for all Virginians.
  • Pay attention to whether your policy leaders are crafting and supporting tax and employment policies – like broadening paid family/medical leave and earned income tax credits – that support healthy families.

Right now, violence, harassment, and oppression are all around us. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Families and communities have the power to support transformative pivots in our culture. We can discuss these nuanced and difficult topics (like consent) with friends and neighbors, with our children, and with relatives. And we can commit ourselves to dismantling practices and norms that sustain a current culture of silence, shame, and avoidance on these topics giving way to a future in which wholeness, health, and consent are the new norms.

We at the Action Alliance have a compelling vision for a world where all of us thrive. We believe this better world is possible. We believe we are the ones we’ve been waiting for to make this future happen. We choose all of us to be a part of this future.

We seek a radically hopeful future where:

  • individuals are free and have what they need to reach their full potential;
  • relationships, families, and communities are healthy, equitable, nourishing, and joyful;
  • government, institutions and systems are rooted in equity and justice;
  • all decisions are grounded in whether they will benefit our future descendants, as well as our beautiful, sustaining earth.

With your help, this vision for a radically hopeful future – where sexual violence does not exist – really isn’t too distant.

For more information and resources on our work to prevent sexual violence in Virginia, check out TeachConsent.org, learn more about our statewide prevention projects, and support the Building Healthy Futures Fund.

Both images: Adobe Stock


Jonathan Yglesias is the Policy Director at the Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance where he works with a team of advocates, movement minds, attorneys, and passionate policy nerds to coordinate the Action Alliance’s public policy efforts on behalf of survivors, sexual and domestic violence agencies, and communities in Virginia seeking to improve the prevention of and response to sexual and domestic violence. He also likes memes and baby animals.


Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call 804.377.0335

Action Alliance Statement on Sexual Assault Allegations Made Against Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax

As the public conversation on sexual assault allegations against Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax continues to evolve, the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance would like to share a few of the values that are central to the work of the Action Alliance and our statewide network of sexual and domestic violence survivor advocates and preventionists:

  • Choosing to come forward and share an experience of assault can be deeply re-traumatizing. In the movement to end sexual and domestic violence, we work every single day to create an environment in which survivor stories are met with belief, support, and compassion.

 

  • There is no place for character assassination in this conversation. We start from a place of dignity and worth for every human and remind ourselves of that value as we support finding clarity and justice for both parties.

 

  • We seek to nurture a future in which every person has the knowledge and skills necessary to practice informed, ongoing, and enthusiastic consent. This is the antidote to sexual violence and we believe every human is deserving of experiencing healthy and joyful sexuality, centered in pleasure.

 

  • We focus on the harm that has been done and how to repair it, rather than deeming people “good” or “bad”. This is one of the principles of restorative justice. Most people in the world have both been harmed and have committed harm. Thinking of people as either “good” or “bad” creates a false binary and is ineffective in creating the future we believe is possible. We must learn new ways of holding each other accountable that foster growth and connection.

Featured image: AP Photo/Steve Helber

Action Alliance Statement on Governor Northam’s Yearbook Photo

As a statewide coalition fighting for racial and gender justice, we are deeply disturbed by the racist photos revealed in Governor Ralph Northam’s college yearbook and the Governor’s own admission of donning blackface, a racist and dehumanizing behavior. While abhorrent, we must acknowledge that individual acts of overt and covert racism do not happen in a vacuum. They are planted and fostered by broader—and often less visible—ideologies and structures that are driven by and support white supremacy.

Given the structural and insidious nature of racism, it is imperative that the Governor’s actions be viewed through a wider lens beyond his past behavior and his current explanations. If we remain solely focused on one man’s problematic behavior, we limit solutions to consequences for one man and miss opportunities for expansive change.

The injurious legacy of racism and white supremacy in Virginia has created structural inequalities which affect the lives of Virginians every day. Many of these mechanisms are carried out by the state. Harms include voter disenfranchisement, a cash bail system which criminalizes poverty, the trauma-to-prison pipeline, maternal mortality among Black mothers, high rates of intimate partner homicides against Black women, and mass incarceration and surveillance of communities of color, to name a few.

We can and must do better. In keeping with our values of equality and justice, the Action Alliance operates from a racial justice lens. We seek to undermine and dismantle the racist legacy of our beloved Commonwealth and re-imagine a world where the humanity and dignity of all people are recognized and embraced. In order to create a world where relationships, families and communities are healthy, equitable, and joyful, we must think and work broadly to address the underlying factors that drive domination and violence.­­

In this moment, we have all been given an opportunity to listen, reflect and mobilize to address structural racism in Virginia with renewed vigor. The Action Alliance believes that pathways to justice and healing must include listening to individuals and communities most affected, addressing harm with a focus on accountability and reparations, and always working toward wholeness and restoration. This moment calls us to reflect on big questions, such as:

  • What options exist to hold ourselves and each other accountable, for our words and behaviors, past and present, while remaining in community?
  • What can we all, including the Virginia Democratic and Republican parties, do to demonstrate a true commitment to accountability and reparations for historical racism, now and in the years ahead?
  • How can we shape government, institutions and systems so they are rooted in equity and justice?

The answers to these questions will offer us a path forward.

The Action Alliance calls upon our policy leaders to listen to and work with Black communities across Virginia to determine next steps in the hard process of reparations for the harms that have been committed against communities of color, steps that would put Virginia on a powerful path toward wholeness and liberation.


Featured image: AP Photo/Steve Helber

The Government Shutdown’s Impact on Survivors of Sexual Violence and Domestic Violence

As the nation enters the fourth week of an unnecessary partial government shutdown, federal funding for vital services to sexual assault and domestic violence survivors will come to an abrupt halt. As agencies cut back expenses to maintain essential crisis services, many of their other services and programs that provide vital support, resources, and healing are being temporarily reduced or eliminated.  

In Virginia, federal funds from the Department of Justice (DOJ) are the primary source of funding for these sexual and domestic violence services. These funds support crisis hotlines, accompanying survivors to hospitals in the wake of violence, legal advocacy and representation, emergency housing and transportation, trauma counseling for victims of all ages, direct financial assistance, and more. 

Domestic Violence shelters face an additional barrier since many of them rely upon funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for vital homeless prevention, shelter operation, and transitional housing services. Both DOJ and HUD are closed and staff that were brought in temporarily to process funding requests will be furloughed this week. 

 

Intimate Partner Violence is More Likely to Occur When Couples Are Under Financial Strain

Virginia is one of the jurisdictions most heavily impacted by the furlough which has resulted in curtailment of pay for more than 800,000 federal employees and the loss of work for an untold number of contractors.  Should the shutdown continue beyond January 25th, some of the more than 1,000 employees of Virginia’s Sexual and Domestic Violence agencies will also face the prospect of furloughs. 

Families that suddenly lose a substantial portion of their income, whether single parent households, couples with children, individuals responsible for elderly family members, or adults without dependents, can quickly tailspin into financial crisis. 

Two thirds of adults in the US have less than $1,000 in savings — and those losing their income as a result of the shutdown are no exception.  The financial stress of not being able to pay bills, heat your home, purchase fresh food, or keep your children in safe care while you are out of work can become a point of volatility in relationships. For survivors of intimate partner or sexual violence who are in the process of recovering from violence, financial stress triggers trauma responses that jeopardize healing. 

 

This Shutdown is Irresponsible and Dangerous to Our Communities 

No matter your politics, the partial government shutdown is unconscionable.  It jeopardizes public safety.  The shutdown throws individuals and families into crisis, and then pulls the rug out from under crisis services. It is not acceptable to demand that essential federal employees work without pay (something that would NEVER be tolerated in the private sector) and then refuse to do the job of governance.   

 

Your Support is Vital to Your Community Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Agencies 

Make a contribution to your community Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence agencies today! If you don’t know the name of your local agency, you can find the name and contact information on our web-site in the Help/Resources section:  Virginia SDVA Directory. 

Every dollar that you donate will stretch services a little further as the shutdown continues.  Agencies have had to cut back direct financial assistance for needs as varied as legal representation, trauma counseling, housing and medical care but local support could make a big difference.   

There may also be some unique needs for other types of donations or for volunteer help as agencies cut costs for travel, supplies and other semi-critical expenses. If you are available, reach out by phone or email and offer help.  

 

Policy Leaders Need to Hear from YOU 

You can also support your community Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence agency by reaching out to your Congressional representatives and the President to tell them to end the shutdown.  The budget impasse is a manufactured crisis.  The sad reality is that this crisis is being fueled by a xenophobic and racist policy proposal (i.e. the wall). We need both a budget AND thoughtful and compassionate immigration reform, and our Virginia policy leaders are capable of both. 

This is also an important time to let your state legislators know that increased state funding for Sexual and Domestic Violence Agencies is key to sustaining life-saving work throughout the Commonwealth. Please join us on Wednesday, January 30th, for Legislative Advocacy Day as we lift the voices of survivors and advocate for policies that will help prevent violence and ensure conditions where every person has the opportunity to thrive. 

Register For Legislative Advocacy Day (January 30th) Here: https://actionalliance.salsalabs.org/legislativeadvocacyday2019/index.html 

Find and Contact Your Representatives Here: https://whosmy.virginiageneralassembly.gov/ 

Reach Out to the President Here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/ 

 

 

Kristi VanAudenhove is the Executive Director of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. She has been a leader in coalition work, advocacy and policy for nearly 40 years.  

Holiday Gift Guide for Social Change Enthusiasts

As the holiday season approaches and you start to think about what you’ll be gifting your loved ones, our team at the Action Alliance wanted to share a few things to give to the emerging or seasoned preventionists and activists in your life!


FOR CHILDREN

A is for activist

Cover image for book, A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara

A is for Activist or Counting on Community by Innosanto Nagara

A is for Activist is an ABC board book written and illustrated for the next generation of progressives: families who want their kids to grow up in a space that is unapologetic about activism, environmental justice, civil rights, LGBTQ rights, and everything else that activists believe in and fight for. The alliteration, rhyming, and vibrant illustrations make the book exciting for children, while the issues it brings up resonate with their parents’ values of community, equality, and justice. This engaging little book carries huge messages as it inspires hope for the future, and calls children to action while teaching them a love for books.”

counting on community

Cover image for book, Counting on Community by Innosanto Nagara

Counting on Community is Innosanto Nagara’s follow-up to his hit ABC book, A is for Activist. Counting up from one stuffed piñata to ten hefty hens–and always counting on each other–children are encouraged to recognize the value of their community, the joys inherent in healthy eco-friendly activities, and the agency they posses to make change. A broad and inspiring vision of diversity is told through stories in words and pictures. And of course, there is a duck to find on every page!”

 

 

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Cover image for book, Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth

 Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg

“A comic book for kids that includes children and families of all makeups, orientations, and gender identities, Sex Is a Funny Word is an essential resource about bodies, gender, and sexuality for children ages 8 to 10 as well as their parents and caregivers. Much more than the “facts of life” or “the birds and the bees,” Sex Is a Funny Word opens up conversations between young people and their caregivers in a way that allows adults to convey their values and beliefs while providing information about boundaries, safety, and joy.”

 

 

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A sample box of materials from Little Justice Leaders, including markers, a book, and a journal.

Little Justice Leaders Subscription Box

Perfect for kids in grades K-5, this subscription box highlights a social justice issue each month through arts and crafts, projects, books, conversation starters, and other activities that help the young person in your life how to understand complex issues. Options include a sibling pack for families with more than one child and a teacher version for teachers!

 

 

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Cover of the book, My First Book of Feminism (for boys) by Julie Merberg

My First Book of Feminism (For Boys) by Julie Merberg

With simple and colorful illustrations and engaging, age-appropriate language, this book is perfect for children ages 0-3! At the Action Alliance we believe it’s never too early for young people to learn about respecting other people’s boundaries and no’s and that masculinity can be expansive, tender, and caring; this book is a great way to start those conversations with the young people in your life!

 


FOR YOUNG ADULTS

the hate

Cover image for the book, The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

“Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr. But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.”

 

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Cover image for the book, The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Recently named a National Book Award Winner! “Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking. But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself. So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out. But she still can’t stop thinking about performing her poems. Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.”

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Cover of Girls Write Now book

Girls Write Now: Two Decades of True Stories from Young Female Voices by Girls Write Now

Girls Write Now builds community through their Writing & Mentorship Program, Digital Media Mentoring Program, and monthly workshop series. For the last 20 years they have connected girls and young women with progression women writers to provide mentees with tools to grow as writers and storytellers. In a starred review, Booklist wrote, “Through poetic verse and infused with native language, these 116 autobiographical short stories from black, Asian, and Latina young women are thoughtful, earnest, raw, regretful, angry, and impassioned . . . The authors’ authentic experiences will elicit strong emotional reactions from readers and maybe even encourage them to write their own. Strongly recommended.”


FOR EVERYONE

Fund Abortion Earrings

Fund Abortion/Build Power earrings in purple

Fund Abortion/Build Power Earrings or We Fund Abortion Socks by National Network of Abortion Funds

The National Network of Abortion Funds builds power with its members to remove barriers to abortion access. In their work they center people who have had abortions and organize at the intersections of racial, economic and reproductive justice. Many Action Alliance staff have a huge crush on NNAF and the abortion funds (and individuals) that make up their membership (including the Richmond Reproductive Freedom Project), and it’s not just because they have some of the coolest merch out there.

 

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Cover image of the book, Octavia’s Brood, edited by Walidah Imarisha and adrienne maree brown

Octavia’s Brood edited by Walidah Imarisha and adrienne maree brown

“Whenever we envision a world without war, prisons, or capitalism, we are producing speculative fiction. Organizers and activists envision, and try to create, such worlds all the time. Walidah Imarisha and adrienne maree brown have brought 20 of them together in the first anthology of short stories to explore the connections between radical speculative fiction and movements for social change. These visionary tales span genres–sci-fi, fantasy, horror, magical realism–but all are united by an attempt to inject a healthy dose of imagination and innovation into our political practice and to try on new ways of understanding ourselves, the world around us, and all the selves and worlds that could be. Also features essays by Tananarive Due and Mumia Abu-Jamal, and a preface by Sheree Renee Thomas.”

 

unap

Cover image of the book, Unapologetic, by Charlene Carruthers

Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements by Charlene Carruthers

“Drawing on Black intellectual and grassroots organizing traditions, including the Haitian Revolution, the US civil rights movement, and LGBTQ rights and feminist movements, Unapologetic challenges all of us engaged in the social justice struggle to make the movement for Black liberation more radical, more queer, and more feminist. This book provides a vision for how social justice movements can become sharper and more effective through principled struggle, healing justice, and leadership development. It also offers a flexible model of what deeply effective organizing can be, anchored in the Chicago model of activism, which features long-term commitment, cultural sensitivity, creative strategizing, and multiple cross-group alliances. And Unapologetic provides a clear framework for activists committed to building transformative power, encouraging young people to see themselves as visionaries and leaders.”

 

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Free Our Mothers t-shirt in black

Mama’s Bail Out Shirt or Chisholm for President Crewneck

Philadelphia Print Works is a social justice brand and screen printing workshop. They have partnered with organizations such as the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund, Assata’s Daughters, March to End Rape Culture, and the Philly Trans March to support organizing around food security, police brutality, liberation, tlgbq+ rights, mass incarceration and more!

 

Chisolm for President

Chisholm for President shirt in red, available at Philadelphia PrintWorks, a social justice heritage brand and screen printing workshop. It was founded in 2010 by Maryam Pugh and Ruth Perez.

 

 

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A picture of the Rise Up game board and playing pieces.

Rise Up: The Game of People & Power

This collaborative board game is all about building people power and winning together for social justice! A great game for nights in with friends or office team building alike, this game is all about building movements. Created by the folks at the TESA Collective, don’t forget to check out the rest of their store full of expansion packs and other social justice-centered games.

 

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An image of the Repeal Hyde Art Project’s poster, which is an illustration of two crabs with the header, “Friends don’t let friends plot to dismantle the imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist heteropatriarchy alone.”

“Friends Don’t Let Friends” Repeal Hyde Art Project Print

The Repeal Hyde Art Project aims to create dialogue and awareness around the Hyde Amendment. Passed in 1976, the Hyde Amendment prevents people from using Medicaid to pay for abortions. This art project highlights how the Hyde Amendment has disproportionately impacted women of color and is connected to other forms of oppression such as transphobia, ableism, and classism. Many Action Alliance staffers have these beautiful prints in their office to reminds us that “Friends don’t let friends plot to dismantle the imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist heteropatriarchy alone!”

 

Gumbs

Cover image of the book, Revolutionary Mothering, edited by Alexis Pauline Gumbs, China Martens, and Mai’a Williams

Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines edited by Alexis Pauline Gumbs, China Martens, and Mai’a Williams

“Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Frontlines is an anthology that centers mothers of color and marginalized mothers’ voices—women who are in a world of necessary transformation. The challenges faced by movements working for antiviolence, anti-imperialist, and queer liberation, as well as racial, economic, reproductive, gender, and food justice are the same challenges that marginalized mothers face every day. Motivated to create spaces for this discourse because of the authors’ passionate belief in the power of a radical conversation about mothering, they have become the go-to people for cutting-edge inspired work on this topic for an overlapping committed audience of activists, scholars, and writers. Revolutionary Mothering is a movement-shifting anthology committed to birthing new worlds, full of faith and hope for what we can raise up together.”

 

bitch

Feminist fury pencil pack from Bitch Media

Feminist Fury Pencil Pack by Bitch Media

Bitch Media has provided thoughtful feminist responses to mainstream media and pop culture since 1996 in print, online, on the air, and on campuses. This pack three-pack of neon pencils are ready to help you write or sketch out your angry feminist agenda and support Bitch Media at the same time!

 

 

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Cover image of the book, Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith

Don’t Call Us Dead: Poems by Danez Smith

“Award-winning poet Danez Smith is a groundbreaking force, celebrated for deft lyrics, urgent subjects, and performative power. Don’t Call Us Dead opens with a heartrending sequence that imagines an afterlife for black men shot by police, a place where suspicion, violence, and grief are forgotten and replaced with the safety, love, and longevity they deserved here on earth. Smith turns then to desire, mortality—the dangers experienced in skin and body and blood—and a diagnosis of HIV positive. “Some of us are killed / in pieces,” Smith writes, “some of us all at once.” Don’t Call Us Dead is an astonishing and ambitious collection, one that confronts, praises, and rebukes America—“Dear White America”—where every day is too often a funeral and not often enough a miracle.”

 

Be the Change: Just Seeds Coloring Book by Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative

BeTheChangefront

Cover image for the book, Be the Change by Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative

Be the Change is the first coloring book featuring the art of Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative!  These 35 illustrations envision radical social transformation and pathways toward a more just future. People of all ages will find inspiration here. In a world that is getting faster every day, slow down and celebrate art and resistance. Make the revolution bright, colorful, and irresistible! Together we can be the change we want to see!”

 

 

 

 

queer

Cover image of book, Queer and Trans Artists of Color by Nia King

Queer and Trans Artists of Color: Stories of Some of Our Lives by Nia King

“A collection of sixteen unique and honest conversations you won’t read anywhere else… Mixed-race queer art activist Nia King left a full-time job in an effort to center her life around making art. Grappling with questions of purpose, survival, and compromise, she started a podcast called We Want the Airwaves in order to pick the brains of fellow queer and trans artists of color about their work, their lives, and “making it” – both in terms of success and in terms of survival. In this collection of interviews, Nia discusses fat burlesque with Magnoliah Black, queer fashion with Kiam Marcelo Junio, interning at Playboy with Janet Mock, dating gay Latino Republicans with Julio Salgado, intellectual hazing with Kortney Ryan Ziegler, gay gentrification with Van Binfa, getting a book deal with Virgie Tovar, the politics of black drag with Micia Mosely, evading deportation with Yosimar Reyes, weird science with Ryka Aoki, gay public sex in Africa with Nick Mwaluko, thin privilege with Fabian Romero, the tyranny of “self-care” with Lovemme Corazón, “selling out” with Miss Persia and Daddie$ Pla$tik, the self-employed art activist hustle with Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarsinha, and much, much more. Welcome to the future of QPOC art activism.”

marsha-p-johnson

Poster image of a drawing of Marsha P Johnson with heading, “No pride for some of us without liberation for all of us” by Micah Bazant.

Marsha P Johnson Poster by Micah Bazant

The tagline on Micah Bazant’s website is “making social change look irresistible,” and that is very much what they do. They are a “a trans visual artist who works with social justice movements to reimagine the world. They create art inspired by struggles to decolonize ourselves from white supremacy, patriarchy, ableism, and the gender binary.” This particular poster was first created in 2014 for their “No Pride for Some of Us Without Liberation for All of Us” series as a way to “challenge whitewashed gay pride and celebrate Marsha, one of the mother of the trans and queer liberation movement.”


This holiday gift-giving guide is brought to you by the Action Alliance’s Social Change Team, which works on social change and movement building to disrupt the conditions that give rise to violence and oppression.

Responding to the Kavanaugh Hearing With a Commitment to Prevention

On September 27th, I watched Christine Blasey Ford testify in front of  the Senate Judiciary Committee in my mostly darkened office. The day was already gray, and only my small desk lamp and computer screen provided any sort of illumination. I watched as Dr. Ford described the sexual violence she experienced as a teenager, as she repeatedly apologized for not remembering every detail, as she politely asked for caffeine and then a break, and as she patiently and scientifically described the ways that this trauma imprinted on her brain. When I took my own break and walked over to a coffee shop to grab a drink, my eyes burned thinking about what Dr. Ford remembered most vividly—their laughter, “two friends having a really good time with one another.”

I then watched Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony. I watched as his face twisted and got red, his body seemingly unable to contain his anger, fear and defiance. I was immediately struck by his rage and how clearly he felt entitled to it. Writer, social justice facilitator, and healer adrienne marree brown reflected on this in a blog post titled “Dr. Ford’s Dignity” when she wrote, “Kavanaugh has been marked by his actions in public, his dirty hands showing, his rageful face showing precisely how a boy who sexually assaults a girl while he is drunk looks when he grows up. his true self showed today, and every survivor who saw his face, who heard Christine Blasey-Ford say she was once scared he might kill her, recognized him as a perpetrator.”

For many of us who recognized Kavanaugh as a perpetrator, his confirmation a little over a week later, was not surprising, though still devastating. Just as so many things that have happened over the past few years have been not surprising, though still devastating.

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Image credit: Andrea Arroyo

In our own work, we must continue to show up for survivors. From Thursday, the day of the hearing, to the Sunday after, RAINN saw a 338% increase in hotline calls. While advocacy and direct services continue to be vital for the communities we serve and the survivors who come to us, it’s equally important to commit to primary prevention work.

At the Action Alliance, we define primary prevention as a set of practices and values that seek to shift attitudes, behaviors and norms that support and perpetuate the root causes of violence. Primary prevention uses anti-oppressive frameworks and understands that systems of oppression such as patriarchy and white supremacy are at the heart of sexual and intimate partner violence.

While devastating, the Kavanaugh hearing and Dr. Ford’s testimony provide us with clear examples of rape culture, one that normalizes and rationalizes sexual violence as inevitable and a part of “natural” human behavior rather than understanding it as structurally and culturally created and sustained. An understanding of rape culture allows us to see how the violence Dr. Ford experienced, that so many survivors experience, goes beyond what happened one summer night in a Maryland suburb. And when we use primary prevention practices we are able to prevent instances of violence and dismantle the culture that allows this violence to happen.

While devastating, the Kavanaugh hearing and Dr. Ford’s testimony provide us with clear examples of rape culture, one that normalizes and rationalizes sexual violence as inevitable and a part of “natural” human behavior rather than understanding it as structurally and culturally created and sustained.

With a primary prevention lens, we can see how misogyny and privilege build a culture where boys feel entitled to a young girl’s body, where they do not take her struggle seriously, where they in fact find the situation amusing, even fun. We see how this phrase that flows so easily out of some people’s mouths, “boys will be boys,” reinforces the idea that harm is inevitable and boys, specifically white boys, should not or cannot be held accountable for their actions. It is rape culture that sends the message to survivors that speaking publicly about the violence they have experienced is harmful or unfair to their perpetrator; it frames this unveiling of violence, abuse and trauma as a “scary time for boys” rather than the reckoning that it is.

We can better understand the differences in Dr. Ford’s and Kavanaugh’s demeanors on September 27th with a primary prevention lens because we understand how gender roles and stereotypes police behavior. It was necessary for Dr. Ford to be polite, courteous, and controlled because she is a woman and to be too emotional, angry, or frustrated would make her dramatic, hysterical and thus unbelievable. While Dr. Ford was dignified, Kavanaugh, as a man, was outraged; even, arguably, in excess. What are we teaching young women and trans or non-binary people when some are entitled to express their emotions to a point of a menace, while others must keep even the deepest parts of their grief contained and quiet?

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Image credit: Sharyn Lee

With a primary prevention lens, we can better unpack how the public perceived Dr. Ford in comparison to Anita Hill, a black woman who testified in front of an eerily similar Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991. Because with this lens, we know that racism is also a root of rape culture and sexual violence and that when a CNN pundit described Dr. Ford’s testimony as more resonant because she projected vulnerability while Anita Hill projected strength and poise, we know this is connected to racial stereotypes about black women.

The Kavanaugh hearing and subsequent swearing in prove the necessity for a deep culture shift. We want to live in a world where people understand and practice consent, where sexuality is joyful, where boundaries are respected, where open communication is expected. In this world, those who have harmed are held accountable and these harmful behaviors are transformed and changed. In order to get there, we must commit to violence prevention. We must invest in and value prevention trainings and education; community building, organizing and connection; and the work of people and organizations in other movements that fight for justice and liberation (National Network of Abortion Funds and SisterSong). As organizer and educator Mariame Kaba reminded us on twitter in 2017, “Let this radicalize you rather than lead you to despair.”

Thank you, Dr. Ford.

Thank you, Anita Hill.

We believe you.

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Image credit: Ashley Lukashevsky


Additional Reading:

We Still Haven’t Learned from Anita Hill’s Testimony (NYT) by Kimberlé Crenshaw

What Christine Blasey Ford Reveals about Womanhood (The Guardian) by Moira Donegan

Listen: Déjà vu All Over Again (NPR Code Switch)


Laura Chow Reeve is the Youth Resilience Coordinator at the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. Prior to her work at the Action Alliance, Laura worked with Girls Rock Camps, youth programs that use music and creative expression as a tool for social justice. She has a MA in Asian American Studies from UCLA and writes fiction.

 

I’m Dreaming of a World Where Everyone Feels Safe Outside

Trigger warning: descriptions of street harassment.

“The first time I was catcalled, I was 11-years-old. Every day after school, I walked less than a block away from the bus stop to my house. One day, a man pulled up beside me in his car and rolled down the window and asked how old I was. When I didn’t answer, he told me not to be shy and that he was just having “a little fun”. I remember my heart starting to race – so fast that it felt like it was gargling in my throat.”Faith Brar

In fourth grade and walking by an apartment building. Nine years old and walking with her grandmother. Twelve years old and walking the family dog. Nine years old, walking out of McDonald’s. Six to seven years old, going to a bathroom. Eleven years old and at school.

These are only some women’s stories about the first times they were catcalled. From as young as six years old, children and adults alike are subjected to street harassment every day. In fact, according to two online studies by Stop Street Harassment, at least 99 percent of respondents say they have experienced some form of street harassment — including but not limited to verbal comments, honking, whistling, leering, vulgar gestures, and stalking.

A ubiquitous problem, street harassment is a serious part of rape culture that normalizes unwanted, non-consensual sexual advances. Furthermore, it is a way for harassers to assert their “power and privilege over a public space,” thus further perpetuating a cycle of gender inequality. Street harassment leaves those targeted feeling unsafe, threatened, fearful, humiliated, and violated. And it’s not just the actual harassment itself, but as one writer describes it, “the fear of what might happen next is haunting.”

A little over a year ago, in May 2017, Pussy Division – a feminist activist group – put up “CATCALL CRIME SCENE” yellow tape around Philadelphia as part of a public art installation to raise awareness about street harassment.

“If our tape is inconvenient or annoying, then think of how inconvenient it is being chased by men and too scared to say no because we could get hurt or even killed,” stated Lara Witt, the group’s spokesperson.

Inconvenient is an understatement. According to a large-scale research survey conducted by Hollaback! and Cornell University, 72% of American women[1] reported taking different transportation due to harassment. Globally, the numbers are even worse. More than 76% of Argentinian women reported avoiding an area in their own town or city because of harassment. 80% of German women and more than 88% of Italian women reported taking different routes home because of harassment, 80% of Indian women reported being unwilling to go out at night because of harassment, and 80% of South African women reported changing their clothing because of harassment.

Not only does street harassment intrude into victims’ everyday lives, hindering their freedom and forcing them – instead of the harassers – to sacrifice their comfort and convenience for their safety, but it is psychologically damaging as well. According to a 2008 study of college women, street harassment was significantly related to self-objectification, which has been linked to depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. Another alarming study of 297 undergraduate women found that objectification was associated with decreased sexual assertiveness, which was associated with an increased risk of sexual victimization. This means that frequent harassment can often lead to diminished sexual assertiveness, which can leave people at a higher risk of sexual assault.

Furthermore, unwanted sexual advances such as street harassment can be “insidiously traumatic,” according to a study published in 2014. As one writer stated, “every instance of harassment contains the threat of violence: what if I don’t respond the way the harasser thinks I should? Will he follow me? Will he pull me into his car? What if I see him again when it’s dark, or I’m alone, or he has friends with him?” This constant state of fear that harassment could escalate to assault or other forms of violence can have serious impacts on individuals’ mental health. It is also important to note that street harassment can be triggering for survivors of sexual violence.

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Source: https://everydayfeminism.com/2012/10/5-excuses-for-street-harassment-we-need-to-stop-making-now/

Street harassment is often done with a sense of entitlement – entitlement to comment on other people’s appearance and bodies, entitlement that other people and their bodies exist solely for the harasser’s “visual pleasure.” This same sense of entitlement – entitlement to sex, entitlement to someone else’s body – is one that can lead to sexual violence.

This month, France passed a bill that outlaws catcalling and street harassment, making them punishable with on-the-spot fines of up to 750 euros. While extra policing might not necessarily be the answer, as it can lead to unintended consequences that disproportionately harm people of color, it is reassuring to see a nation take street harassment seriously and attempt to put an end to it. There are various other ways to address street harassment, from educating others about its detrimental impacts to using the Hollaback! app to report instances of street harassment and let others know that you’ve “got (their) backs.” Regardless of how each individual chooses to address the issue, what matters is that we keep the conversation going and continue to raise awareness on the prevalence of this problem.

In our fight to end violence and inequality, there is no such thing as an unimportant or “small” issue. Every instance of oppression is one that ultimately feeds into a greater cycle of inequality and violence. If we want to see a world free of violence, that must be a world where threats of violence, objectification, and harassment are not brushed to the side – a world where everyone feels safe to go outside.

[1] The report did not address gender non-conforming individuals.

Featured image source: http://www.stopstreetharassment.org/2013/09/stwtskickstarter/


Maryum Elnasseh is a rising junior at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she is double-majoring in journalism and political science, with a concentration in civil rights. At the Action Alliance, Maryum has worked as the Real Story Intern since February, and this is her last post as an intern. We wish Maryum the best as she heads back to school!

Ending Child Marriage: A Priority to Ending A Cycle of Violence

Content warning: sexual assault, suicide, physical violence

On May 10, Sudanese courts sentenced a 19-year-old girl to death for defending herself and stabbing her rapist, whom she had been forced to marry at age 16. Although the sentence was overturned over a month later, Noura’s case has prompted international outcry and has further highlighted the need to address child marriage, which about 12 million girls experience each year.

When discussing child marriage, it is imperative to recognize its connection to intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and other forms of abuse and exploitation. According to a UNICEF report, girls who marry in their childhood are more likely to experience intimate partner violence. In fact, girls who get married under the age of 15 are 50% more likely to suffer physical or sexual violence from a partner. Girls Not Brides further reports that ending child marriage would reduce rates of intimate partner violence by more than 10% in Ethiopia, Mozambique, Nigeria, and Uganda.

Additionally, child brides are more likely to describe their first sexual experience as forced – as was the case for Noura. In fact, one study in northern Ethiopia found that 81% of girls who were married at ages 10-19 “described their first sexual experience as against their will.” Likewise, in India, child brides were three times more likely to be raped than those who married later. Other studies have reported that many women who were married young continue to be raped throughout their marriages.

As noted by Global Citizen, child marriage often forces children to be separated from their family and friends and “transferred to (their spouses) like a piece of property.” This can lead to feelings of isolation, depression, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors – all of which are associated with child marriage. Furthermore, child brides are often deprived of their fundamental rights to health, education and safety, have a higher risk of experiencing dangerous complications in pregnancy and childbirth, and are more likely to live in poverty. All of these conditions uphold a cycle of violence against the children, which continues into their adulthoods and oftentimes into the next generation. Child marriage also “ensures that (girls) remain dependent on others all their lives, strips them of their agency, and hands control over their lives to someone else” – therefore systematically disempowering them.

 

Source: https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/GNB-Child-marriage-human-rights-infographic-1200px.jpg

On the contrary, girls who remain with their families and continue their education are able to become financially independent and “engage more fully with society.” In fact, just one extra year of primary education can boost a girl’s future earnings by 15%. Thus, by robbing girls of education and economic opportunities, child marriage forces girls into a cycle of poverty – the very poverty that oftentimes is the reason they were forced into their marriages in the first place.

 

Here in the United States, more than 248,000 children had been married, mostly to adult men, between the years of 2000 and 2010. In Virginia specifically, almost 4,500 children were married from 2004 to 2013. Of these children, 90% were girls, and 90% were married to adults. Virginia records additionally showed brides and grooms as young as 12 years old. Although the minimum age of marriage in most US states is 18, 48 out of 50 states have exceptions that allow children under 18 to get married. Furthermore, in half of those states, there is no minimum age at all below which children cannot get married – despite the fact that the age of consent, across the nation, ranges from 16 to 18 years old.

In 2011 alone, in New York, state data showed that a 14-year-old was wed to a 26-year-old, a 15-year-old to a 28-year-old, another 15-year-old to a 25-year-old, and a yet another 15-year-old to someone aged 35 to 39. Such age differences would typically result in third-degree rape charges, which occurs when a person over the age of 21 has sex with a child under the age of 17, a felony punishable with up to four years in prison. However, a current loophole exempts New York’s statutory rape law from applying to those who engage in sex with juveniles they are married to. As one author wrote in the Houston Chronicle, “marriage provides a sort of get-out-of-jail-free card for perpetrators, while doing nothing to protect the girls.”

Although some may argue that there is not much difference between an 18-year-old’s level of maturity versus a 17-year-old’s, Fraidy Reiss, the founder of the nonprofit Unchained At Last, notes an important distinction. “It’s about legal capacity. In most states, you’re not legally an adult until age 18, meaning you can’t take the legal steps you might need to protect yourself if you are married before then, including getting into a domestic violence shelter, retaining a lawyer, and getting a divorce,” Reiss told Global Citizen. “It puts the lock into wedlock.”

It was not until May 2018 that Delaware became the first US state to ban all child marriage, without exceptions. While several other states are in the process of following suit, there is still considerable – and urgent – work to be done. Girls Not Brides has reported that if child marriage is not reduced, the number of women around the world married as children will reach 1.2 billion by 2050 – “with devastating consequences for the whole world.”

Ending child marriage is a necessary component of ending sexual violence and intimate partner violence. There are many ways to join the movement to end child marriage, such as supporting girls’ education – a powerful tool to empower girls and allow them the opportunity to grow into confident and independent women.  It is also important to recognize that education alone will not end child marriage, as the issue is multifaceted and caused by various factors including gender inequality and poverty. Although the various, overlapping aspects of child marriage can make it harder to eradicate, they also allow for countless opportunities to get involved. Lawmakers can work to close loopholes in laws and policies that leave children vulnerable; teachers and community leaders can learn to recognize signs of child marriage, as well as form trustful relations with children they mentor so that children may feel comfortable seeking help from them if a harmful situation arises; and all concerned individuals can use their voices to call on global leaders and politicians to protect children.

If we work together to tackle child marriage, we can create a world where girls and women are empowered, in charge of their own destinies, and able to live their lives free of violence,” said Mabel van Oranje, the Princess of Orange-Nassau and co-founder of Girls Not Brides. “This is a world that makes all of us better off.”

Featured image source: https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/delaware-child-marriage-ban-us-first/

 


Maryum Elnasseh is a rising junior at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she is double-majoring in journalism and political science, with a concentration in civil rights. At the Action Alliance, Maryum is an intern for the Real Story Internship. She hopes to use her voice as a tool to ignite social change.