It’s Time for Virginia to Invest in Prevention

The end of the year provides many of us with an opportunity to slow down, to reflect on the events of the past year, and to spend time in deep connection, nurturing our relationships with friends, family, and loved ones. It’s a much-needed respite before we slingshot forward into the new year. And 2020 will undoubtedly be a big year. With a newly elected state legislature and the most diverse House and Senate leadership in the history of Virginia’s General Assembly, we are poised to see a brand-new set of possibilities on the horizon. From strategic investments to reduce the maternal mortality rate for black women to electoral access to firearms legislation to the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, the role of sexual and domestic violence survivors and advocates couldn’t be more important in moving these possibilities forward.

Just like the legislature, our movement to end sexual and domestic violence is ready for change. Over the course of the past two years, members of the Action Alliance have engaged in a series of strategic visioning sessions where they were asked to imagine the world we are working toward: what will the future look like when we have achieved our goals? what do we need to be focus on now to reach that future? The culmination of these sessions is a new vision for the Action Alliance which centers a radically hopeful future where:

  • birds flying among clouds in the dawnall people reach their full potential,
  • relationships are healthy, equitable, nourishing and joyful,
  • government and community institutions are rooted in equity and justice, and
  • our decisions are grounded in considering the benefit to future generations.

On the heels of this work and in the wake of the 2019 elections, the Action Alliance believes that now is the time for Virginia’s policy leaders to invest in the prevention of sexual and domestic violence.

In 2020, we will ask the legislature to establish the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Prevention Program with a budget request of $5 million per year as initial funding. The program will include dedicated staff positions and new grant programs in the Department of Social Services for intimate partner violence prevention and in the Department of Health for sexual violence prevention. Grant programs will support diverse sexual and domestic violence agencies, including culturally-specific programs to provide sustained prevention programming to communities across Virginia.

If you share our vision for a Virginia where we finally see reductions in the rates of intimate partner violence and sexual violence please make your voice heard. Talk to your legislators about the need to invest in sexual and domestic violence prevention NOW. Contacting your legislators is easy – and it becomes even easier when you use our handy Legislative Advocacy Guide – you can reach out via email, pick up the phone, or make contact on Facebook, Twitter, and in some cases, Instagram. You can find contact info for your legislators here.

A new Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Prevention Program will fund vital, evidence-informed activities like:

  • Ongoing school-based and after-school education teaching young people the skills required to build healthy relationships;
  • Education for parents and families – in coordination with Community Services Boards, in-home visitors, and allied professionals – to foster positive parent-child attachment, support developmentally appropriate communication and expression in youth, and build social-emotional learning skills;
  • Training and tools for school administrators, faith leaders, and peers on ways to create healthy, violence-free environments – including recognizing and responding to harmful behaviors that may be risk factors for future violence;
  • The coordination of multi-disciplinary community coalitions that address issues like VA Family-life Education (FLE) instruction, trauma-informed service provision, and community safety and cohesion.

Programs like these are the cornerstones for ensuring community-wide health and resilience—a key factor in preventing future violence. It is time for Virginia to invest in a robust and effective sexual and domestic violence prevention infrastructure. Preventing sexual and domestic violence is a necessary investment now and for our future.

In many ways, Virginia is on the brink of monumental change. But it will take all of us to help craft and guide this change. So here’s what we’re asking you to do:

Looking up at a skylight dome of an ornately decorated hall overlaid with text: "Join us for Legislative Advocacy Day, January 29, 2020, 8am-2:30pm, Richmond, VA, with virtual legislative advocacy happening statewide!"

 

  • Register and join the Action Alliance for Legislative Advocacy Day on Wednesday, January 29th, 2020!  It’s always an amazing experience to see survivors, advocates, and allies roaming the halls of the General Assembly lifting the voices of survivors and advocating for policies that will help prevent violence and ensure conditions where every person has the opportunity to thrive.
  • Talk to your legislators about the need to invest in sexual and domestic violence prevention NOW. Contacting your legislators is easy – and it becomes even easier when you use our handy Legislative Advocacy Guide – you can reach out via email, pick up the phone, or make contact on Facebook, Twitter, and in some cases, Instagram. You can find contact info for your legislators here. The more our policy leaders hear from us about this issue, the more likely they are to take action and make significant investments.
  • Sign up to receive Policy Action Alerts from us. Be the first to hear about our latest Action Alerts, legislative events, and the work we’re doing to create safer and healthier communities for everyone. We promise we won’t spam you, we’ll never share your personal information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

Policy leaders want to hear from you about how investing in prevention, reducing offender access to firearms, expanding access to trauma-informed healthcare for survivors, and other issues that are important to survivors will help to create a Virginia where all families and individuals are safe and cared for! You can see the full list of the Action Alliance’s 2020 legislative priorities here.

We’re excited to work with you to expand the frame of the possible in Virginia in 2020.


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.

On the Occasion of Linda’s Retirement

Dictionaries define retirement as “withdrawing from one’s position or occupation.”  How does one retire from being an advocate?

A smiling woman sitting at a desk by a computer with a vase of sunflowers.

Linda greeting folks at the front desk of the Action Alliance.

The inimitable Linda Winston will be retiring from the Action Alliance at the end of December after twenty years at the coalition. Linda and I came up in the movement to end sexual violence and intimate partner violence during the same time period and our paths have intertwined for nearly four decades.  Thinking back, there are a few things we learned that Linda carried with her all through these years, things that have made her an awesome advocate.

Linda learned to listen (deeply) and believe; she knows that each person has a story that must be heard and respected and she has never hesitated to give of herself to listen and value others. She learned that one role of an advocate is to help survivors to always have a “Plan B” just in case “Plan A” doesn’t work—and she continues to pull Plans B, C and D out of her pocket as needed around the coalition offices (after a brief period of grumbling)!

The training we received forty years ago helped us to recognize the depth of the roots of white supremacist patriarchy upholding violence, and also gave us a few of the tools to work on digging them out while making room for the deeper, healthier, indigenous roots to grow.  Linda loved the practice of caucusing—those with a minority voice coming together to amplify a message to the majority.  She taught many a young activist the value and the process of building consensus. She embraced feminist politics and the power of a protest. That won’t be ending anytime soon.  Linda will always be an advocate!

Still, she does get to retire from her position as Assistant to the Executive Director, and we celebrate her retirement with great joy (and a few tears, and a bit of worry about how we will get along without her!)  Linda has approached retirement the way that she has approached every position she has ever held at the Action Alliance, and there have been a few. First, she gave us three years notice. She’s not impulsive!  As the date got closer (about a year away) Linda worked with a coach to talk through her hopes and fears for the transition, to make some plans and set some goals, and then she set to work achieving every one of those goals.  Linda likes to talk things through—and make a plan!! Then she started going through 20 years of accumulated files (hers and everyone else’s!), recycling and shredding and archiving and making carefully organized stacks to pass along to the rest of us. She sure was not gonna leave a mess!

Group of women standing in two rows behind a table at the first Lifetime Members' Event.

Lifetime Members gather at the Action Alliance’s first Lifetime Members’ Luncheon.

In recent months Linda has stopped paying attention in meetings.  It isn’t uncommon for her to tell us to just “do whatever you want” with a laugh as she realizes she won’t have to implement decisions being made. Every once in awhile she makes a death joke – and we’re all trying to catch up with this newfound area of humor.  Evenings and weekends Linda has been hanging out with a new group of folks with whom she’ll be spending more time after she leaves the Action Alliance—Hospice Volunteers and Death Doulas.  Linda will be joining their ranks as an advocate for individuals, families and communities as they face the end of life—opening up options for experiencing death as a natural and important part of our human experience.

Linda is a Lifetime Member and lifetime advocate and we’ll be seeing her around—hopefully for years to come.  We will be honoring her this week, and we invite you to join us by making a contribution in her honor. She also loves an old-fashioned card, so if you would like to send one with your good wishes for her retirement you can mail it to 1118 West Main Street, Richmond, VA 23220!


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.

Happy 40th Anniversary, SARA!

Last week, Action Alliance staff traveled to Charlottesville to attend the 11th Annual SARA (Sexual Assault Resource Agency) Awards Breakfast. We cherish opportunities to be included in our members’ events and this event was particularly exciting as it also marked SARA’s 40th anniversary. The event honored SARA’s past, present, and the future they see towards a vision of eliminating sexual violence.

Six people standing around a banner that says, "eliminating sexual violence in our community- SARA"

Action Alliance staff celebrating SARA’s 40th anniversary at their annual breakfast.

To honor the past, the morning was filled with stories from current and former staff, board members, and community supporters about the immense and invaluable impact SARA’s services have had on survivors.

To honor the present, we presented Becky Weybright, SARA’s Executive Director, with the 2019 Visionary Voice Award from The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC). This award recognizes the creativity and hard work of individuals around the country who demonstrate outstanding work to end sexual violence. Each year, state coalitions select an outstanding individual to nominate for the awards and for 2019 our leadership team excitedly identified Becky as the perfect candidate.

Becky is a thoughtful and strategic leader in the statewide movement to end sexual violence. She’s worked in the sexual and domestic violence field since 1988 and now provides excellent leadership as the Executive Director of SARA. Becky successfully navigates that balance between supporting compassionate direct services and building evidence-informed and effective prevention strategies, recognizing that both advocacy and prevention need to be cultivated. As a director, she genuinely cares about her staff.  She leads by example and has the respect and gratitude for those whom and with whom she serves.  Becky doesn’t hesitate to answer the phone or serve a walk-in client.  She is respected by her community partners for having a strong vision for the agency and creating a space for survivors in the community to have a voice. She is proud to be a part of a team of dedicated staff, board, and volunteers and pleased to support the work of her state coalition.

Kristi VanAudenhove and Becky Weybright holding her clock award.

Kristi VanAudenhove and Becky Weybright at SARA’s 40th Anniversary celebration, where Becky was awarded the NSVRC’s 2019 Visionary Voice Award.

To honor the future, the focus shifted to SARA’s leadership and dedication to prevent sexual violence. Dr. Lisa Speidel, a former SARA staff and now UVA Assistant Professor, carried this theme of honoring the past and while continually pushing towards a more equitable, safe, and thriving future. The road forward requires investing in prevention, taking an intersectional approach to our work, centering community norms that reinforce empathy, supporting healthy sexuality, and teaching nuanced consent skills.

It’s often said by those of us in this movement that we’d like our communities to put us out of business. Until that happens, we are grateful to work alongside agencies such as SARA to ensure all survivors are treated with dignity. Cheers to 40 wonderful years of advocacy and prevention!

About SARA: SARA works to eliminate sexual violence and its impact by providing education, advocacy and support to men, women and children. Their vision is a community free from sexual violence. They are based in Charlottesville, Virginia, and serve residents of Charlottesville, Albemarle, Nelson, Louisa, Fluvanna and Greene.


Kat Monusky is the Director of Resilience & Capacity-Building at the Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance where she works with the Movement Strategies team to lead coalition social change initiatives focused on primary prevention and trauma-informed advocacy.

Thank You Members, Donors and Supporters!

1

Our 2018 Annual Report highlights the work we accomplished last year, including milestones in prevention, policy, community engagement, and statewide advocacy. We invite you to view the report online and learn where our energy has been directed recently, and also to see our vision of where the future might find us.

Additionally, we acknowledge, with immense gratitude, that this work was only possible because of our members, donors, and supporters. From all of us at the Action Alliance, thank you for being a part of the movement to end sexual and domestic violence in Virginia!

If you would like to join the number of people and organizations supporting our efforts, you can learn how to become a member here.

2019 Act. Honor. Hope.

Each year, the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance hosts Act. Honor. Hope., an event to recognize individuals and groups who have gone above and beyond to turn the tide and support the development of safe, healthy, and thriving communities across the Commonwealth.

This year, we celebrate and honor the action of individuals and organizations that embody change and empower the communities around them to promote conditions in which every person can thrive. These agents of change provide an example for us all.

December 6, 2019 11:30 to 2:30pm, Virginia Crossings Hotel and Conference Center, Glen Allen, Virginia. Act. Honor. Hope. Member Celebration Luncheon honoring leaders who take extraordinary action to end sexual and domestic violence, and offer hope for a better tomorrow. Action Logo of two intersecting A's in gray and green.

This year’s honorees are:

An organization challenging racial injustice in Virginia by working to dismantle the youth prison model and promoting the creation of community-based alternatives to youth incarceration.

  • Carol Adams — Richmond City Police

Sgt. Adams’ foundation has become a resource center connecting domestic violence victims with services such as counseling and housing, serving the Richmond area’s historically underserved and unserved communities.

A tireless advocate for women’s rights, who, for the past 33 years, has nurtured and grown the Women’s Resource Center into an agency that helps 3,500 survivors each year, providing resources, advocacy, and education.

Del. Carroll Foy has devoted her life to public service and started a political action committee, Virginia for Everyone, aimed at supporting women of color entering political leadership. She has been a passionate advocate and spokesperson for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment in Virginia.

Act. Honor. Hope. is an opportunity to celebrate the incredible work that has been accomplished this year by the honorees, join with advocates and allies from across Virginia, and raise the necessary funds to continue this critical work.

Please join us in HONORing these leaders who have taken extraordinary ACTION to bring about the change necessary to end sexual and domestic violence. Their leadership offers HOPE for a better tomorrow.

Act. Honor. Hope. will be held on December 6 from 11:30am to 2:30pm at the Henrico Ballroom at Virginia Crossings Hotel & Conference Center in Glen Allen, Virginia and will include lunch as well as a silent auction. Proceeds support the policy, prevention, and advocacy efforts of the Action Alliance. We hope you will join us and bring a friend! Purchase your tickets here by Nov. 22, 2019.

Happy 20th Birthday, VAdata!

More than twenty years ago, America Online dominated the World Wide Web, floppy disks were disappearing, and music fans were avoiding the high cost of CDs by downloading music from Napster. When VAdata was first envisioned in 1996, domestic or sexual violence agencies did not use the internet as a primary resource or use email as a routine method of communication, but a group of dedicated sexual and domestic violence advocates saw opportunities for these technological advances to improve their work. They wanted to develop a way to collect information on the experiences of survivors of sexual and domestic violence and describe the services provided to them by agencies around the Commonwealth.

Happy 20th birthday, VAdata! This month 20 years ago, VAdata was born! Hear, Hear to 20+ more years!Without considering that the idea to create a database that “lived” online was groundbreaking, these advocates set out to create a data collection system that was responsive to users as well as responsible to survivors. From the beginning, statewide data collection prioritized the confidentiality and privacy of survivor data. This meant that Virginia was ahead of the curve when the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) prohibited the collection of identifying data in electronic systems in 2006. VAdata was the first electronic data collection system in the nation to collect information about sexual and domestic violence, and to this day, remains the only electronic data collection system that is managed by an advocacy agency. VAdata’s management by an advocacy agency allows its focus to remain survivor-centered, trauma-informed, and safety based as it has always been.

As VAdata comes of age, here are some reflections of its journey from a few of its creators. Happy Birthday, VAdata!


“What makes me most proud to have been involved in VAdata project is that survivors and interest of survivors was always front and center of our work. Yes, we were developing a data collection system to meet a variety of needs, including those of funders and policy makers. However, the project’s leadership understood that those data elements are personal information about survivors and their families and thus were committed to evaluating the impact of collecting and reporting ANY data element, no matter how small, on the survivors–in the short term and longer term; on an individual level and in the aggregate.”

–Kristine Hall, currently at the University of Virginia Medical Center and former Policy Director for the Action Alliance.

____________________________________________________

“VAdata turns 20! When I started in this field back in the day, collecting information for grants was VERY different. We had ‘contact sheets’ that we filled out to document the services we were providing. I used pen and paper ‘tic’ marks to count the services that were being provided. My next endeavor was to use Xcel. So I created a looooong spread sheet. Because VAdata still didn’t collect everything I needed, I learned how to use Access to build our own data base.  Teaching Access to other staff was cumbersome. This helped but Access was still was not user friendly.

Then the most wonderful thing happened. VAdata was born! A lot of time and energy went into creating something that local programs could use safely and securely. The Action Alliance drew off a great deal of wisdom from other’s in the research and data community to make VAdata happen.

When I first began using VAdata, I still had to have a separate data base because it did not collect all the information I needed for each of our grants and work plans. However, over the years VAdata has matured and gotten better with age! I still use spread sheets as a check to VAdata, but I currently use VAdata exclusively for reports and work plans. In addition to using it for reports, I use VAdata to identify trends in services. I can pull data to help gather local data or data elements that are specific to something we are tying to define.

VAdata has made my data needs so much easier and much more advanced. So happy birthday VAdata and thanks for giving so much to local programs! YOU ROCK!”

-Robin Stevens, Services Coordinator at CHOICES, the Council on Domestic Violence of Page County.

____________________________________________________

“In the mid 1990’s Madonna and Whitney Houston rocked the radio, Bill Clinton was President and there was a terrorist bombing in Oklahoma City. I was the Director of Empowerhouse (then RCDV) at that time. I remember working with the husband of one of the staff to develop our first data collection system, using dBASE. It was a life saver. We had previously been using multi-colored codes on the bottom corner of every client form, service document and hotline call sheet to tally our statistics for our VDSS grant reporting. The process of compiling the report took a good day. This was barely steps away from punch cards, but I digress and date myself.  Our fancy dBASE program reduced our grant reporting time by hours, but it was very far from perfect.

Y2K. For those of us who are old enough, the year 1999 may bring back waves of fear on what would happen come January 1, 2000. Would electric grid work? Would water flow? But more importantly, would our donated Compaq 286sx computers work? How would our statistics calculate properly? Birth dates were reflected in the computer by the last 2 digits of one’s birth year and circling back to 00 would muck with the calculations.

Thankfully, folks at the Action Alliance (then VADV) were forward thinkers. When new opportunities became available before Y2K, they geared up to develop a new data collection system for all domestic violence programs to use. The Action Alliance staff was a fraction of the size it is now and I’m sure that the small amount of grant funding they received to develop VAdata didn’t come close to covering the time that they invested. This was a big deal and every agency across the state had its own ideas of what this should look like. I joined one of the committees, because I, too, had ideas. We had an instant thirst for data and wanted to collect everything. One of our challenges was to differentiate the information we wanted to know from the information we needed to know. We sorted through all the potential data fields and landed with a minimized plan. 

While the Action Alliance staff worked with programmers, codes, technical issues and countless other problems, local DV agencies dealt with their own new problems. They were all going to need computers, but not all were there yet. Some had computers, but no access to the internet. They had to get additional phone lines or risk being bumped offline by an incoming call (dial up modems were our only choice!) The lucky few with computers and internet often had only one centrally located computer shared by all staff.

Technology might not have been part of our grassroots beginnings. And looking back you might not think that the first version on VAdata was cutting edge. But that’s where you might be wrong. VAdata was the first web-based statewide domestic violence data collection system. Virginia had the capacity to run reports for a single agency or for the whole state with just a few clicks while other states were still hand compiling their data. 

When VAdata was in the planning stages, there was so much excitement. Ideas being tossed out there on how it would look, act, the information we could gather to better help victims, survivors, caring friends, judicial system, professionals, etc. As it became a reality the excitement never left me, the Hotline Form that was created and in the beginning it turned out to be quite a few pages long, there were so many things we wanted to gather information on. Needless to say, there was quite a bit of tweaking done to bring it to a manageable size of questions that wouldn’t overwhelm the Advocate or Caller.

Our work today isn’t the same as it was Y2K. Thankfully we are adaptable to the changing needs of our communities and of families experiencing violence. VAdata doesn’t look the same today as it did then, either. She’s grown and adapted and has met just about challenge that’s come her way. Congratulations on your 20th Birthday VAdata, and thanks for keeping track of all the services we’ve provided!”

–Nancy Fowler, Program Manager for the Office of Family Violence at the Virginia Department of Social Services.

____________________________________________________

“I was lucky to be part the VADV staff that traveled around the state to train all of the DV and SA programs in VA. Not only was VAdata new to us but the Internet and computers were very new to some of the programs. Some folks that came to the trainings had never had the opportunity to have worked with a computer. So not only were we training on VAdata we were also doing a quick 101 on Using Computers and getting on the internet. I remember one training where after we had gotten everyone on the mock VAdata internet, we were explaining how to tic off the check boxes on a form. We had told the audience to take their mouse and put it on the little square and click on it. We had one person say her mouse wasn’t working, when I got back to her she was holding the mouse against the screen covering the box and a lot more of the form and clicking away, as hard as I tried a little snicker still emerged from me. Happy Birthday VAdata, I still get excited with the information you’re able to give us!!!”

–Debbie Haynes, Coalition Operations Manager at the Action Alliance.

____________________________________________________

“Where were you in the fall of 1999? I was traversing the Commonwealth with coworkers, introducing sexual and domestic violence agencies to VAdata, their new data collection system. Three years earlier, state funding agencies expressed a need for a Y2K-compliant database to collect, at minimum, federally required data from funded sexual and domestic violence agencies. The Action Alliance (then known as VADV) applied for and received funding from VAWA the first year those funds reached Virginia. For 3 years, a dedicated and creative committee met to design the country’s first internet-based data system, collecting data from survivors of both sexual and domestic violence. The committee included state coalitions, state funders, advocates and directors from SDVAs, university researchers, and database/internet experts.

Our relationship with technology was VERY different in 1999. Most SDVAs had no more than one computer, dial-up connections, and limited email experience. Most of us did not have cell phones, nor did we see a need for them. In the nonprofit world, the concept of an internet-accessed database was novel and ahead of its time. A few staff in SDVAs were excited, but most were apprehensive about giving up their paper and pencils for keyboards and monitors. Twenty years later, we know that while the learning curve was steep in 1999, we made the right leap into the future.

Like all technology, VAdata has done nothing but evolve and grow in 20 years. The VAdata programmers/system managers at Advanced Data Tools Corp. have assured that VAdata is supported by current and robust applications. The VAdata Advisory Committee has assured that the system is responsive to new data needs from funders, SDVAs, and policy makers. And they have done so while being consistently mindful of confidentiality and an absolute commitment to only collect data that will serve to improve quality of life for survivors and their children. Information from VAdata has been used to enhance intervention services, advance prevention efforts, increase funding, and inform policy. VAdata has been referenced in the VA General Assembly and even in the U.S. Congress.

I was the first VAdata coordinator and continued in that role for 20 years until my retirement in 2016. In writing this blog, I was asked to consider VAdata’s future. This request caused me to reflect on my personal growth as a result of my work with VAdata. I am by nature a “finisher,” and working on this project taught me A LOT about the value of thoughtful processing. My hope for VAdata is that it will continue to be a thoughtful process, one that embraces advancing technology while also being mindful of making the system work well for all of its cohorts and maintaining its core commitment to survivors as a tool that protects privacy and dignity while providing information to improve conditions for survivors and enhance prevention for everyone.”

–Sherrie Goggans, nurturer of VAdata from the late 1990s until her retirement from the Action Alliance in 2016.

 

Nov. 5 is Our Chance to Start Building a Radically Hopeful Future– #SurvivorsVote

The background is a starry, night sky above mountains. Foreground text says, "I support protections for survivors, including living wage, racial justice, sensible gun laws, access to healthcare, safety and justice. I believe in a radically hopeful future and I vote to make it happen. Remember to vote the first Tuesday in November!" Stylized text as logo for Building Thriving Communities: a project of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance.Did you know that all 40 State Senate and 100 House of Delegates seats are up for election this November?

These members of the Virginia General Assembly will make decisions affecting the safety of our schools and communities, our healthcare, the future of Virginia’s economy, including access to livable salaries and wages, and numerous policies affecting survivors of sexual and domestic violence.

Many of us will also have the chance to vote for local school board representatives, members of city councils or boards of supervisors, commonwealth’s attorneys, sheriffs, and other local elected officials who will make policies that shape our day-to-day lives.

Wouldn’t it be great if these elected officials shared in our dream of a Virginia free of violence in which everyone not only survives, but thrives?

Let’s expand the frame of the possible and invest in #radicallyhopeful futures. We can work towards a vision of a Virginia where the seats of the Virginia General Assembly are filled with individuals who understand what it takes and are deeply committed to ending violence together.

We can have a future in which the full humanity and dignity of all people are recognized and embraced; where communities thrive and are sustained by human connection; in which people who are most affected by policies and decisions are at the center of the decision-making and have ample influence and representation to make change happen; and where relationships, families and communities are healthy, equitable, nourishing, and joyful.

So, how do we make this happen? It begins with each of us using our voice.

Our voice as individuals: Our vote, our voice.

Voting is one way to use your individual voice. By participating in elections, you’re choosing people to represent you and your values and voicing your opinion on ballot referenda.  Your vote is your way to tell people who currently hold office, “good job, keep it up!” or “you don’t represent me, I choose someone else.” Of course, not every candidate running for office will share your views on every issue. You’ll have to decide whose vision of the future is most aligned with yours and choose based on what matters most to you.

Not sure if you’re registered to vote in Virginia? Check here. If you’re eligible to vote and are not yet registered, be sure to register by Tuesday, October 15 so you can vote in November’s election. If you’re already registered, be sure to check your voter registration and confirm its accuracy so you don’t have any problems at the polls on Nov. 5. For example, you may have moved since the last election and need to update your address and identify your new polling place.

Once you know you’re registered to vote, make a plan for Election Day (November 5).

The background is a watercolor image of a woman's face with her eyes closed. In the foreground is text that says, "imagine a radically hopeful future and vote to make it happen. Remember to vote the first Tuesday in November!" with stylized text "Building Thriving Communities: a project of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance."

You can also encourage others to vote by hanging one these posters and sharing this handout on why voting matters.

Our voice as advocates: civic engagement is systems-level advocacy

As advocates, we work to ensure survivors are knowledgeable about their options and empowered to make their own choices because they are the experts in their lives. Voting is an extension of this work. If we are to eliminate violence in the long-term and improve interventions for survivors in the short-term, we need to use our voice during elections.  In our unique role as advocates, we have the power to elect legislators who are willing to improve systems to benefit survivors of violence and even prevent violence from happening in the first place.

One powerful tool that can help advocates – and community members –understand how, or if, our elected officials will truly serve survivors is asking critical questions of candidates. Asking questions like “how would you improve survivor access to medical services in the aftermath of trauma?” not only serves to educate our communities and future policy makers on the issues facing survivors but it also serves to help us understand where candidates stand on these issues and how our day-to-day work might be impacted. Here are some questions you can ask candidates.

Looking to do more to build a #radicallyhopeful future? Check out the Building Thriving Communities Toolkit for more information on facilitating community conversations and for materials and strategies that you can use to engage your community and amplify survivor voices in our democratic process.


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.

Elizabeth Wong is the Coalition Development Director for the Action Alliance. She is committed to building relationships that advance social justice and equality.

Virginia Launches Statewide Sexual Assault Kit Tracking System

RICHMOND (October 4, 2019) –Attorney General Mark R. Herring and the Department of Forensic Science (DFS) are launching Virginia’s first-ever statewide PERK tracking system, a secure, comprehensive electronic tracking system that will allow survivors, DFS, law enforcement agencies, and hospitals to know the status and location of a PERK kit at any given moment. The new PERK tracking system was developed as part of Attorney General Herring’s ongoing project in conjunction with DFS, law enforcement agencies, survivors, and victim advocates to transform the way Virginia responds to sexual and domestic violence.

“In years past, survivors often had no idea whether their kit had actually been tested, and we found out it often hadn’t been, which is so disrespectful to a survivor and really undermined trust in the system. We’ve made so much progress over the last few years to empower survivors, improve communication and transparency, and implement trauma-informed, survivor-centered, practices, and this new system is going to be yet another big step forward,” said Attorney General Herring. “With this new system, survivors, as well as hospitals, labs, and law enforcement agencies, will know exactly what’s happening with a kit, where it is physically located, and where it is in the testing process at any given moment. I want to thank our great partners at DFS for all their hard work and dedication in bringing this project to life.”

“The Department of Forensic Science has always been a leader in utilizing technology to achieve its mission, and this new system is just the latest example,” said Brian J. Moran, Virginia Secretary of Homeland Security and Public Safety. “The PERK tracking system shows our Commonwealth’s commitment to justice for survivors by providing accountability and ensuring PERKs are submitted for analysis in a timely manner. Governor Northam was proud to support this initiative by signing the legislation mandating use of the system beginning July 1, 2020.”

“DFS is proud to play an important role in supporting the criminal justice system by providing standardized PERKs for the collection of sexual assault evidence and providing timely and accurate testing results,” said Linda C. Jackson, Director of the Virginia Department of Forensic Science. “We are excited about launching the PERK tracking system, which provides useful information to all of our users, including law enforcement agencies, hospitals, and survivors.”

“Virginia’s new sexual assault kit tracking system will prove to be an important tool for survivors by promoting greater transparency and control throughout a difficult process,” said Jonathan Yglesias, Policy Director of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. “This is a crucial step in the direction of establishing systems-based responses that are trauma-informed and healing-centered in their approaches to serving sexual assault survivor.”

With the new tracking system, PERKs will be tracked at each step in the process, including their distribution as uncollected kits to collection sites (e.g., hospitals) through collection, transfer to law enforcement, submission to the laboratory for analysis, and return to the law enforcement agency for storage. All agencies handling kits will be required to update the status of each kit, and survivors may use the system to check the status of the analysis of their kits at any time.

The system will notify law enforcement users when collected kits have not been timely submitted for analysis, providing an important measure of accountability, and will provide law enforcement agencies and hospitals with a useful tool to manage their kits and inventories.

The system also includes important protections to ensure survivors’ privacy. No personal information will be stored in the system, access will be restricted to only the information a particular user might need, and kits will be monitored solely by their tracking number.

The PERK tracking system has been in an ongoing soft launch since June and will be mandatory starting July 1, 2020. Currently five organizations/agencies are using the system and DFS will conduct trainings with the remaining entities before use of the system is mandatory. The system will ultimately cost about $100,000, all of which is covered by a $2 million Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) grant secured in 2017 by Attorney General Herring and DFS.

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Domestic Violence Awareness Month (#DVAM) Across Virginia

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month (#DVAM). Though not officially observed until 1989, Domestic Violence Awareness Month has been observed since 1987, when it evolved from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s first Day of Unity. Because of DVAM, sexual and domestic violence agencies spend every October not only mourning those we have lost and celebrating survivors of domestic violence, but also re-rooting in community and the values that we believe will ultimately end violence. DVAM is a time when anti-violence agencies dig deep and reach far, often planning their largest annual events and attempting to reach the broadest possible range of people with their work.

dvam map

This map shows various localities in Virginia offering Domestic Violence Awareness Month events and activities. To see the full clickable map, go here.

More than ever before, there is a collective feeling in the movement that we need “all hands on deck” to make sustainable, revolutionary change. In collaboration with our member agencies, we’ve created this clickable map resource highlighting DVAM events across the state in the month of October. Our hope is that this resource will help the general public plug into anti-violence work in their communities, garner support for sexual and domestic violence agencies’ fundraising and engagement efforts, and help agencies connect across regions.

We are energized by the scope of DVAM events in Virginia this month, which range from bike rides in nature centers, to art exhibits, to political actions on courthouse steps. The array of events is as multifaceted and diverse as our movement, and as Virginia itself.


Emily Robinson is the Development and Engagement Coordinator at the Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance where she works with the Development and Outreach Team to support members and engage the broader community in the work of ending sexual and domestic violence in Virginia. 

Rectangle broken into two squares. Left square is a block with yellow in the background and white lettering that says "The Honeycomb Retreat: Art and Activism." The right block is a photo of about ten pieces of art work made with different media and utilizing different colors.

The Honeycomb Retreat: Art and Activism

This past July, the Action Alliance hosted its first ever Honeycomb Retreat, a social justice art and creative expression retreat. We brought together young people ages 17-23 from all around the state to come together to use art as a healing tool and as a form of activism. We framed art as a means to create social change, to envision a world free from intimate partner and sexual violence. With our group of 17 fellows, the participants, we convened with our three artists-in-residence— Hieu, Jackie, and Virginia— who acted as mentors in both art practice and implementing social change, and other activists, organizers, artists, and educators from across the country who facilitated workshops. The retreat was split between free art space and workshops, and the goal was for fellows to use what they learned or discussed in workshops and respond or reflect upon that topic in their art.

The Honeycomb Retreat aimed to connect with young people in Virginia, offer workshops on advocacy, healing and organizing, and build leadership opportunities within our state-wide coalition. The name Honeycomb was inspired by the idea of fractals, a pattern that repeats itself on both the small and large scale, as expressed by adrienne maree brown’s book Emergent Strategy:

What we practice at the small scale sets the patterns for the whole system. Grace [Lee Boggs] articulated it in what might be the most-used quote of my life: Transform yourself to transform the world. This doesnt mean to get lost in the self, but rather to see our own lives and work and relationships as a front line, a first place we can practice justice, liberation, and alignment with each other and the planet.


I was hired to help plan and organize the retreat in February. I was a senior double majoring in English and Art History at the University of Richmond and happened upon the intern listing via a school email. I was drawn in by the vision that the Action Alliance looked toward, a world in which all are free from gender-based violence by using an anti-racist framework. I had never worked in a non-profit and was nervous for what was to come in the following months. Nonetheless, I was excited to see where the retreat could go and how it would impact everyone who would be involved.


Art is an act of problem solving. This is a potent refrain stated by artist-in-residence Hieu Tran and later echoed by countless fellows throughout the retreat. The phrase suggests a refusal of passivity, something that one must engage in, a conscious and thoughtful action that must be done in order to find a solution. Both within the space and outside of the retreat, problem solving was required. The fellows collaborated on banners, prints, sculptures, working to overcome and undo any obstacles that they ran up against in the creative process. In much the same way, the Action Alliance Staff engaged in the same action, albeit not with banners but with planning workshops, space coordination, food donations, and more. All things Honeycomb Retreat were a whirlwind, and staff, fellows, and artists alike were nothing short of busy bees. The weeks and days leading up to it were a flurry of meetings, Target runs, and arts and crafts.


A group photo of 25 people all wearing the same gray t-shirts with a single yellow honeycomb piece posed together in about four rows.

Action Alliance staff, artists-in-residence, and fellows from the 2019 Honeycomb Retreat.

The Saturday before the retreat began, I attended a talk at the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Art) given by Gregory Sholette about the intersection of art and activism as it pertains to institutional critique. He described the practice of institutional critique as bringing visibility to. This resounded deeply as the retreat began and, in practice, we all began to consider what it meant to bind art and activism and what we were hoping to make visible. As it applies to art, activism is two-fold. First, deconstructing both the definition of what art is and what art can be. Second, what it can do.

The goal of the Honeycomb Retreat was to use art not just as healing practice but also as an organizing tool. We wanted to shift the perspective that art only existed in the sphere of self-service, as a remedy to burnout. As the week progressed, I think this shift became visible. One fellow remarked when prompted by the question what is art: It is expression. For freedom. For release. For honesty. For truth. Another stated that it is heritage, resistance, power, struggle, whatever you need it to be in that moment. We were crafting art to be whatever we needed it to be. Our artists-in-residence helped to encourage the idea that art could do something beyond just existing passively without thought. Jackie, Virginia, and Hieu all used their work across mediums such as illustrations, screen printing, or theatre to bring visibility to something. This act of bringing attention was consciously done in the hopes that the viewer on the other end would be moved, motivated, and/or inspired to create change. In a matter of days, the fellows were bringing their dreams of Black mystics, of the imagined tales of Lizzo and Reggie Jr (her trusty snake companion), of living unafraid, to the visual world via canvas, poetry, or paint.

The fellows started art-making timidly on the second day, the first day with partitioned time for art. They worked under the advice of the artists-in-residence, checking in about technique and composition. Some fellows painted a banner that Hieu conceptualized based on a Vietnamese board game. Others used printing blocks made by Jackie, such as a whale on a bicycle or a block declaring They/Them. And as they attended more workshops, on topics such as healthy relationships, sexual healing with plant medicine, and community care, they found what provoked or what moved them to expression. It was like we lit a fire, resulting in everyone trying to create as much as they could as time allowed.


Two people leading a workshop at the Honeycomb Retreat with posters hung on the wall in the background.

Emily Herr (left) and Raelyn Williams (right) facilitate a workshop at the 2019 Honeycomb Retreat.

One of my own sources of worry about the retreat was presenting a workshop. I wore a dress with a bee pattern for bravery, hoping that if I could ornament myself externally in the Honeycomb theme then, hopefully, I could internalize it as well. My workshop was on the history of museums and galleries and how that history is rooted in colonization, imperialism, and white supremacy which in turn shapes the modern-day institution that tokenizes marginalized people. I also had Richmond muralist Emily Herr as a co-facilitator to discuss what it means to create socially-conscious work and exist outside of the museum sphere. We wanted the fellows to learn that they could and should call themselves artist without trepidation. However, if the title felt awkwardly fitted, to still recognize that what they create can be impactful.

On our last day, Friday, after a barbeque out in the blazing midday sun with tabling from local organizations such as the Virginia League for Planned Parenthood, Side by Side, Health Brigade, and the Virginia Student Power Network, we closed with a visioning graphically facilitated by Emily Simons. One of the questions we asked our fellows was: “Based on the different art skills you built and the workshops you participated in this week, what do you want to do next? What are you excited for next? What’s your vision for a world without sexual and intimate partner violence?” and someone responded, Excited to see the change we are going to create. I love the duality in their use of create. Activism and art are both something that one creates out of a need for visibility, a deep desire to see change in the world. I am extremely thankful for the retreat and the ability to connect with so many amazing individuals. The Action Alliance has become a part of my hive and for that I am truly grateful.


Raelyn Williams is an intern at the Action Alliance with a passion for art and social change.