A Brief Reflection on the Intersections between Race, HIV, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity

As a Black and gay male, I understand the urgency of addressing the HIV epidemic that affects me and others within our community. National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, February 7, is a time set aside for us within the Black community to increase HIV education, testing, community involvement, and treatment in an effort to end the HIV epidemic. It is also important to take time to acknowledge distinct barriers to prevention and care that impede efforts ending the HIV epidemic. One such barrier is the unique experience of LGBTQ people in regard to the intersection of HIV/AIDS and domestic abuse.

Power and control wheel

“LGBTQ Relationship Violence” From the National Domestic Violence Hotline

In his article, Just*in Time: HIV & LGBTQ Domestic Violence, Justin B. Terry-Smith voices the struggles of the intersection of HIV/AIDS and domestic abuse. He details a few tactics of abusers: using HIV guilt as a weapon, taking away or controlling access to HIV medication – this control over medication can be for PrEP, nPEP[1], or antiretroviral HIV medications – controlling access to money and other resources, using social media to manipulate and threaten, and creating or magnifying stress and trauma. All of these tactics can make a person’s HIV diagnosis more dangerous for their health. An abuser’s ability to victim-blame, isolate and control by using social media, and regulating HIV medication is amplified for LGBTQ Blacks and African Americans, who at the same time are experiencing racial disparities within the healthcare and domestic violence services systems. Additionally, resources for LGBTQ people are already limited, and an abuser isolating an LGBTQ partner can be especially detrimental for health outcomes.

According to the United States Census Bureau, we lack equity in economics, insurance coverage, and health.

  • Economics: In 2017, the Census Bureau reported the average Black median household income to be $40,165 in comparison to $65,845 for white households. Also in 2017, the Census Bureau reported that 22.9 percent of Blacks in comparison to 9.6 percent of whites were living at the poverty level. Further, in 2017, the unemployment rate for Blacks was found to be twice that of non-Hispanic whites, 9.5 percent and 4.2 percent, respectively.
  • Insurance Coverage: In 2017, the Census Bureau reported 55.5 percent of Blacks in comparison to 75.4 percent of whites used private health insurance. Also in 2017, 43.9 percent of Blacks in comparison to 33.7 percent of whites relied on Medicaid or public health insurance. Lastly, 9.9 percent of Blacks in comparison to 5.9 percent of whites were uninsured.
  • Health: According to Census Bureau projections, the 2015 life expectancies at birth for Blacks is 76.1 years, with 78.9 years for women, and 72.9 years for men. For whites the projected life expectancies is 79.8 years, with 82.0 years for women, and 77.5 years for men. The death rate for African Americans is generally higher than whites for the following: heart diseases, stroke, cancer, asthma, influenza and pneumonia, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and homicide.

“never reported, contracted HIV.” — Gay male, 29, Charlottesville*

The National Domestic Violence Hotline goes even further into the unique mental and physical tactics LGBTQ abusers use to gain power and control, detailing that LGBTQ tactics to gain control are all rooted in homophobia, biphobia, heterosexism, and transphobia. Threatening to “out” a survivor’s sexual orientation or gender identity, denying the survivor’s sexual orientation or gender identity, suggesting the abuse is “deserved” because of the survivor’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and explaining away abuse by upholding the abuse as masculine or some other desirable trait. These mental tactics all serve to isolate the survivor from the LGBTQ community. This is especially damaging for LGBTQ people since there are fewer specific resources for LGBTQ people. Similarly, these tactics can be combined with racism to compound the isolation and damage experienced by the person being abused.

It was a friend. The first gay person I ever knew. I really was reaching out for the first time trying to find a mentor. He was older and I wanted to learn what it was like to be gay in my rural community … but then this [violence] happened.” — Gay queer male, 23, Richmond*

As Black and African American LGBTQ people, we are tasked with managing our health, regardless of HIV status, finding ways to navigate institutions that were not designed with us in mind, stigma that is associated with HIV/AIDS and domestic abuse, and various other societal pressures without much structural or institutional support.

“I didn’t think it was a big deal; it felt normal or not what I thought “domestic violence” was;” –Bisexual female, 20, Richmond*

It is also important to acknowledge and understand the power we have as individuals and as a community to combat stigma accompanying HIV/AIDS and domestic abuse and bring change to existing institutions. Reducing stigma by acknowledging anyone – regardless of gender – can be in an abusive relationship, and that domestic abuse is more than physical abuse; domestic abuse can also be mental abuse and emotional abuse. Stigma reduction also helps in disregarding victim-blaming narratives linked with HIV/AIDS and domestic abuse, respectively. Educating ourselves to understand the circumstances that would lead to a HIV diagnosis or to someone being with an abuser, likewise, helps reduce victim-blaming. For example, understanding that prevention measures such as nPEP and PrEP may not be available due to lack of accessible healthcare options, or unable to access because a person’s abuser is controlling their lives, are two examples of how reducing stigma also reduces victim-blaming.

I believe we as a nation will reach equity in regard to race, gender identity and expression, and sexuality. True equity would mean no one would be able to determine a person’s health outcomes based on their race, gender identity and expression, and/or sexuality. We can and do have the power to combat HIV/AIDS and domestic abuse in all of our communities, across race, LGBTQ identities, and other dimensions.

“I really believe that LGBTQ hate crimes, domestic violence, discrimination and bias are still quite a problem in our time. Since I was involved in a support group for LGBTQ folks (Dignity/Integrity Richmond, now defunct, from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s) I became aware of these issues, particularly LGBTQ domestic violence. All of these issues were occurring then and I am quite sure they continue to occur today. For the most part I think LGBTQ folks are aware of these issues but for the most part I think LGBTQ folks, for whatever their reasons, don’t report them or try to deal with them on their own. This is the reason, I think for surveys like this one and I think it’s a good thing.” — Gay male, 51, Henrico*

You can reach the Virginia Disease Prevention Hotline (Monday-Friday, 8am-5pm) at 1-800-533-4148, where counselors answer questions and provide crisis intervention, referrals, and written educational materials regarding Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs), HIV/AIDS, and Viral Hepatitis. 

If you or someone you know needs help or resources, contact the LGBTQ partner abuse and sexual assault helpline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at 1-866-356-6998. Or, text 804-793-9999 or chat: www.vadata.org/chat

*The quotes in this post come from the Virginia Anti-Violence Project 2008 Survey.

Sources:

The State of Violence in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Communities of Virginia: A Report of the Equality Virginia Education Fund Anti-Violence Project

National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

Just*in Time: HIV & LGBTQ Domestic Violence

Income and Poverty in the United States: 2017

The Black Population: 2010

Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2017

Census Bureau, 2018. 2017 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates

The National Domestic Violence Hotline page on LGBT abuse

[1] Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and non-occupational post-exposure prophylaxis (nPEP) are HIV prevention strategies.  They are medical interventions and public health approaches used to prevent infection. (Learn more about PrEP and nPEP.)


Christian Carr is a Ryland Roane Fellow for the Virginia Department of Health and is currently working alongside Minority Health Consortium to help empower the Richmond, Virginia community.

Healthy Boundaries and Consensual Non-Monogamy

Preliminary definitions (from morethantwo.com): 

RESPONSIBLE (or CONSENSEUAL or ETHICAL) NON-MONOGAMY: Any relationship that is not sexually and/or emotionally exclusive by the explicit agreement and with the full knowledge of all the parties involved. 

POLYAMORY: (Literally, poly” meaning many + amor” meaning love) The state or practice of maintaining multiple sexual and/or romantic relationships simultaneously, with the full knowledge and consent of all the people involved. 

SWINGING: The practice of having multiple sexual partners outside of an existing romantic relationship, most often with the understanding that the focus of those relationships is primarily sexual rather than romantic or emotionally intimate. 

MONOGAMY: (Literally, mono” meaning one + gamos” meaning marriage) Formally, the state or practice of having only one wedded spouse. Informally, the state or practice of having only one wedded spouse at a time, or more generally, having only one sexual partner or only one romantic relationship at a time. 

Everyone has expectations of the people in their lives. Sometimes those expectations are hard and fast with no wiggle room (ie. I have an expectation of safety and bodily autonomy. Therefore, if you are physically violent with me, I will leave.) Other times, the expectations may be of high importance but there’s an understanding that there’s room for potential error (ie. I have an expectation of honesty but recognize that being transparent can be difficult. I will hold you accountable when you are dishonest.) Whether they’re called rules, boundaries, expectations, understandings, or something entirely different, it’s reasonable and common for people to assert them and expect others to respect them. 

As advocates, it’s easy for us to wrap our minds around this concept in monogamous relationships. We understand that people have lots of different rules and agreements made with their partner: fidelity, consultation about major financial decisions, expectations of home maintenance. However, sometimes relationship rules can assert an unfair level of control. Where that line is drawn is different for everyone Some people might find a rule of “If you’re going to spend over $100, we need to have a conversation about it first” extremely inhibiting. Others might not care. Some people might be totally okay with a rule of “No sexual or romantic relationships with anyone beyond the two of us.” Others might feel limited by this. 

Those of us in the fields of sexual and domestic violence have learned to identify how rules can be used as tools of power and control in monogamous relationships. It’s not uncommon to see relationships where one person controls their partner’s behavior by isolating themtelling them who they can and cannot talk to, and limiting when/how they communicate with othersWe know what red flags look like in monogamy, and how to talk to empower people to make changes that honor their needs, but can we recognize these red flags in consensual non-monogamy? 

As people begin exploring consensual non-monogamy, they can experience a medley of emotions; liberation, trepidation, excitement, insecurity, growth, discomfort. When navigating something new and scary, people often take precautions to prepare ourselves. Even if someone is absolutely stoked to sky-dive out of a plane, they still create a mental and physical safety net for themselvesSo it’s not uncommon for people to establish rules or boundaries when they dive into consensual non-monogamy. In the swinging community, folks might start out with rules of “we only swing together” or “we do not have penetrative sex with other partners”. These boundaries can be to protect the sexual health of all involved, people’s own emotional well-being, or both. Someone beginning to explore polyamory may have an expectation that their partners don’t engage sexually or romantically with their friends, or only with people that they don’t share a social circle withAll of these expectations limit their partner’s behavior or engagement with others. But how do we recognize, and then empower others to identify, whether or not these expectations are healthy? 

All relationships have a level of give-and-take compromise. Sometimes that’s as small as not eating at your restaurant of choice for dinner, but often, it’s bigger. One thing we can be mindful of in determining whether or not a rule in a relationship is healthy is the mindsets of all involved parties. If someone is enforcing a rule or boundary, they should be mindful of where it stems from. Are they feeling insecure, anxious, threatened, jealous? If so, that’s okay. Those are all entirely valid feelings, even in consensual non-monogamy. Awareness of those feelings is an important step, as is taking accountability for the fact that those feelings are theirs to own and are not “caused by” their partner’s actions. A big red flag in non-monogamy, just like in monogamy, is if someone is blaming their partner for their negative emotions.  

infinity heart

We should look at whether or not people asking for their partners to restrict their behaviors are considerate of how long rules need to be in place. Using metaphorical training wheels makes a lot of sense, but is it fair of someone to impose restrictions on their partners forever? Saying “I know it’s important to you, but I do not want to hear about your relationships with your other partners,” is different from “I feel insecure when you talk about your other partners, but I know it’s important to you. For now, can we limit that talk to light topics, and as I adjust to this, maybe we can begin to discuss things a little more in-depth?” Another red flag is the unwillingness to compromise. There’s a difference in the assertion of control between someone who has an unyielding rule about being Facebook official with their polyamorous partner who is dating three people and someone who says “Visibility is really important to me. If being Facebook official isn’t something you can do, how else can you show people that we’re together?” 

One of the other ways we can keep an eye out for red flags is to examine how the person being asked to implement the rule is feeling. Do they feel like they have room to ask for compromise? Is this rule compromising an important value of theirs? Do they fear for their safety or well-being if they say no? Are there power dynamics at play that need to be explored? For example, someone who has been practicing polyamory for over a decade might want their brand-new-to-poly girlfriend to meet all their other partners. If their approach is “Look, I’ve been doing this a long time, and if you really want to be polyamorous, you have to just get over your fears and learn to get along with all the other people I’m dating,” that leaves a lot less room for compromise than “I understand why this makes you uncomfortable, and also it’s really important to me. Is meeting my partners something you’re interested in doing, and if so, how can we make that process go smoothly for you?” 

As advocates, we should be wary of making assumptions when it comes to consensual non-monogamy. Non-monogamous relationships are not inherently unhealthy. People are not automatically victims because their partner is interested in developing or has multiple relationships. Similarly, consensually non-monogamous folks are not immune to engaging in abusive and controlling behaviors. The same power dynamics we see in monogamous relationships can rear their heads in any other relationship structures. In consensual non-monogamy, unfair restrictions and control can be asserted both by people who don’t struggle with jealousy and those who use rules to manage their insecurity. Every relationship deserves an empathetic, unbiased, and nuanced conversation when it comes to determining whether people feel their boundaries are being violated. That’s one step we take to committing to end intimate partner violence for everyone. 


Laurel Winsor is the Events Coordinator at the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance and has her BA in Justice Studies from James Madison University. She is a black belt in martial arts, real-life social justice warrior, baker, climber, sister, and professional hype-man.

Partnership through the State and Local Partners Meetings

1I’ll never forget the first time I attended a State and Local Partners meeting.

I had just started with the Action Alliance and was invited to attend this meeting a few weeks from my start date. This particular meeting was at UVA-Wise – a pretty far drive from Richmond, and the farthest I’ve ever driven in Virginia! As we drove through the mountains, I remember feeling excited to learn more about the field of sexual and domestic violence advocacy, getting a chance to meet new people throughout the state, and spend time with co-workers learning more about the work of the Action Alliance.

For most State and Local Partners meetings, agencies in a particular region of the state come together for a day to talk about topics related to our work that are important to that region, get updates about work being done across the state, and hear updates, news, and announcements from the convening partners including the Action Alliance, Virginia Department of Social Services, Department of Criminal Justice Services, Virginia Department of Health, and the Department of Housing and Community Development. The Action Alliance is one of partners that helps organize and facilitate these meetings. For each quarterly meeting, the convening partners rotate the roles of facilitator and time-keeper.

At this first meeting, I remember we focused on prevention services and how difficult it was for agencies to address mental/behavioral health and substance use concerns. Other meetings I’ve attended have focused on working with underserved populations, funding concerns, survivor data privacy as well as privacy in communal living situations, and more. There’s always something to be learned at the meetings.

What so many advocates and directors walk away with after these meetings is not only practical resources from partners and other agencies on how to do better work in Virginia, but they’ve also built better relationships by being in the same room, listening to each other, knowing that we are facing the same concerns, speaking the truths that are difficult about our work, and collaborating to solve problems in the moment. This networking power is phenomenal and keeps advocates and directors looking forward to State and Local Partners meetings every quarter. I personally created so many connections with folks from that first meeting. It was a great “welcome aboard” opportunity.

If you are interested in joining us for a meeting and building these great connections to help you in the work and the movement to end violence, you’ll want to save the following dates:

  • February 11, hosted by Goochland Cares, will be for agencies in the Central Virginia region. You can RSVP at this link.
  • May 19 will be hosted in Northwestern Virginia
  • August 11 will be hosted in Southwestern Virginia
  • November 10 will be hosted in the Eastern Virginia

This year, we’re working to make sure our State and Local Partners meetings are nurturing your needs. If you have any questions or ideas, please reach out to Tamara Mason at tmason[at]vsdvalliance.org!


Amanda Pohl is the Data Systems and Evaluation Director at the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. She works with a team to ensure survivor data is kept private and in the control of survivors and provides valuable insight on data that is used to inform policy and tell the stories of survivors and the work of agencies in Virginia.

Building Thriving Communities

The 2020 Session of the Virginia General Assembly is off and running—and it is exciting to see an increasingly diverse group of elected leaders consider so many new policy initiatives that have the potential to make Virginia a stronger, healthier and more just Commonwealth for all. In addition to the much publicized, celebrated and long overdue ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, policy leaders are considering measures that would: 

  • Expand access to safe and affordable housing, particularly for those who have faced discrimination in the past, including victims of domestic violence, those with low incomes, and LGBTQ people;  
  • Support workers and promote economic security through increasing the minimum wage, extending the minimum wage to more workers, requiring employers to provide vital forms of leave including paid family and medical leave, and eliminating barriers to safety net programs such as TANF and SNAP for those who rely on those programs when they cannot participate in the workforce; and  
  • Restore agency to all of those who need and benefit from reproductive health services by removing barriers that have been erected in recent years and taking bold steps to protect the reproductive liberty of all Virginians. 

Group of a couple dozen people with arms raised in victory behind a long banner that reads, "Equality of Rights Under the Law Shall Not Be Denied or Abridged by the United States or by Any State on Account of Sex" standing in front of the Virginia State Capitol.The Prevention Institute, a national nonprofit whose mission is to build prevention and health equity into key policies and actions at the federal, state, local, and organizational level to ensure that the places where all people live, work, play and learn foster health, safety and wellbeing, recently published an excellent report on preventing domestic violence. The report describes a trajectory of factors that contribute to high rates of domestic violence and suggests policy initiatives that can counteract those factors.  Three of the most significant contributors to that trajectory toward perpetration of domestic violence are housing insecurity, lack of living wages, and barriers to obtaining health care, including reproductive health care. Imagine what could happen in our communities if these were eliminated! 

Three of the most significant contributors to that trajectory toward perpetration of domestic violence are housing insecurity, lack of living wages, and barriers to obtaining health care, including reproductive health care. Imagine what could happen in our communities if these were eliminated! 

A fourth significant contributing factor is low participation and willingness to act for the common good. One measure of participation and acting for the common good in any community is engagement in the democratic process—working with others to improve your community, using your voice in community forums, and voting.  The 2020 General Assembly will consider numerous bills to make it simpler for individuals to be engaged and act for the common good.  From noexcuse absentee voting to making Election Day a holiday to establishing in our Virginia Constitution that voting is a right for all adults that may not be taken away for any reason—there are many improvements being considered. 

The work of the Action Alliance encompasses not only ensuring effective interventions and protections for victims of sexual and intimate partner violence, but also preventing violence.  One important way that we do this is through building thriving communities where all people can access safe and affordable housing and engage in meaningful and equitably compensated work.  In these communities everyone would have access to the full spectrum of resources needed to be healthy and well, and all people would be valued.  These communities would be sustained by citizens who are engaged with each other and committed to democratic decision-making, protecting and exercising their right to vote.  Consider increasing your engagement during this 2020 General Assembly Session and be a part of bringing us one step closer to future communities where sexual and intimate partner violence might well be a thing of the past.    

Curious to learn more about any of these bills?  You can go the Legislative Information Services website and search by topic to learn more.  Just enter the topic that interests you and the year 2020 for links to bills on that topic.  The Action Alliance will also be providing a report after the Session concludes and the Governor has signed or vetoed most major legislation highlighting new policy that will become law.  You can then be a part of ensuring their effective implementation in your community! 

One important set of bills that we would like you to consider are House Bill 1015 and Senate Bill 297 which establish a new Sexual and Domestic Violence Prevention Fund in Virginia, and their companion budget items which would make $5 million available for prevention initiatives across Virginia.  Reach out to your local Delegate and Senator and let them know how important it is that we invest in prevention now so that future generations of young people have a greater chance to have lifelong relationships that are healthy and safe.

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!"

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!

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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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.