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 It started with a manufactured scandal surrounding Delegate Kathy Tran’s bill that would have repealed harmful TRAP laws on abortion access, including 24-hour waiting periods, requirements to obtain multiple layers of physician consent, and requirements that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 JustiFairfax

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.

 

OB

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.

Tikkun Olam

Tikkun Olam is a concept in Judaism that refers to “repairing the world” and is often used to support and protect those who are disadvantaged. The power of Tikkun Olam is that it speaks to the world being broken and the intent to fix (repair) it. For a Jewish survivor, Tikkun Olam could be an important cultural component to the healing process.

This summer, the Virginia Department of Social Services awarded grants to six culturally and population specific organizations to provide new domestic violence services to the underserved communities they serve. Representing communities of color, immigrant and refugee communities, religious minorities and LGBTQ people, these organizations are trusted entities possessing a deep understanding of the barriers people in their communities face as well as the strengths and assets embedded in their communities. The six organizations include:

Tikkun-OlamGreater Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse (JCADA) is committed to serving Jewish survivors and other religious minorities experiencing domestic abuse. Guided by the Jewish concepts, Tikkun Olam “to repair the world” and Shalom Bayit “peace in the home” JCADA understands how faith can be a source of strength.

Ethiopian Community Development Council, Inc. (ECDC) will launch Safe Journeys, an outreach, counseling and assistance program that provides culturally and linguistically tailored case management to survivors. ECDC has multicultural and multi lingual staff who work with African immigrants and refugees in Northern Virginia.

Boat People SOS, Inc. (BPSOS) has supported the Vietnamese community for 38 years and will launch the Communities Against Domestic Violence (CADV) in Northern Virginia. A large number of refugees have a history of trauma having fled unsafe homes and/or communities in Vietnam.  CADV will address two compounding, cross-cutting problems that affect a large portion of Vietnamese Americans: dv and trauma.

Heal Concept Metal Letterpress Word in DrawerSacred Heart Center (SHC), located in Richmond, is a hub for the Latinx community serving clients from the entire metropolitan area. Funding will allow the SHC to provide new domestic violence services including case management, in part through an expanded relationship with Safe Harbor providing culturally specific service.

LGBT Life Center in Hampton Roads provides comprehensive services to the LGBT community from a staff who understands the unique barriers to and opportunities for safety  and healing.  LGBT Life Center will provide crisis services to survivors and their families and will work with Opinion Leaders to raise awareness about domestic  violence in their community and share resources through their social networks.

Also in Hampton Roads, the Hampton Roads Community Action Program (HRCAP) addresses poverty through many programs and strategies.  A specific focus has been on African American families residing in public housing and other neighborhoods of Southeast Newport News.  As a multi-service agency, HRCAP clients have access to a  wide breadth of services including new domestic violence advocacy and counseling for survivors and their families.

We are inspired by the work of our six new grantees who affirm their communities’ cultures and experiences and we look forward to learning through these new partnerships! Chào mừng đến với, ברוך הבא, ሀልሎ አንድ ወልጮመ, bienvenido, welcome!


Alyssa Murray is a Domestic Violence Program Specialist with the Virginia Department of Social Services.  She has worked in the fields of domestic violence, public health, homelessness and education over the last 25 years.  Her first experience working with survivors was at the White Buffalo Calf Woman Society located on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, the home of the Sicangu Oyate Lakota Nation.

Outside of work, Alyssa is a poet, a mom to two teenagers, and a human companion to two hound dogs.  She works with the immigrant community in Richmond and is writing a children’s book about Irene Morgan and Elizabeth Van Lew.

You can contact Alyssa at alyssa.murray@dss.virginia.gov

 

 

 

Meet Katie Moffitt, UPLC Coach!

We welcomed two incredible additions to the Action Alliance staff in May–both Coaches for our new Underserved Populations Learning Collaborative (UPLC). They are Quan Williams and Katie Moffitt. Two weeks ago we wrote about Quan, and this week we focus on Katie; keep reading for a bit of insight into the social justice roots that inform her tattoos and her hopes for her new position with the Action Alliance.

Katie, what’s your story?

I have an MSW and have been in the field for 8 years. I’ve worked as a clinician, adjunct professor, and as a preventionist at two local Sexual & Domestic Violence Agencies in Virginia. I love animals, baseball, playing trivia, cooking, gardening, cheese, collecting ice molds, making pun inspired Halloween costumes, and my friends and family.

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Ice molds!

What is an UPLC Coach and what excites you about being a Coach?

Being a UPLC Coach is more than a job to me; it’s a calling. Having worked in the field for quite some time I’ve had the good fortune to work with a diverse group of people and have learned that everyone has something new and wonderful to contribute. I’ve also been witness to just how very real historical and systemic oppression are in our culture and how they’ve contributed to the reinforcement of violence.  The UPLC will allow us to work collectively to identify and address barriers while also enhancing the things we’re already doing well in order to better provide services to underserved populations.

If you were an animal/food/tattoo, what kind would you be and why?

If I were a tattoo I would be the ones I have currently and the ones I have planned. Each tattoo represents something, some idea, or people of importance to me. I have ants because I’m a dedicated Aunt to four awesome kiddos, the socioecological model (SEM) because of my time spent as a preventionist going upstream to figure out how to effect change on all levels of the SEM, dandelions for all of the survivors I’ve worked with and known over the years as a representation of the resiliency, potency, and beauty that they all possess, a fox for my godson and community in Winchester; and I’m working on a tattoo that will represent the importance of joy, silliness, brightness, and the simple pleasures in life as a reminder to balance self-care and service.

dictionfairy

Katie’s “dictionfairy” costume.

What’s one goal you have for the next year as the new UPLC Coach?

The UPLC provides a unique opportunity for us, not only to work with agencies from around the state, but to also bring everyone together to learn from each other. I’m excited to get to build relationships with everyone and enhance services for Virginia’s underserved populations. My main goal for the first year is to assist Sexual and Domestic Violence Agencies in the pursuit of creating a Virginia that is more inclusive, culturally responsive, and equitable to all of those in need of services.

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Trivia team


To reach Katie, email her at kmoffitt@vsdvalliance.org. To learn about the UPLC project, visit our website here.