Meet Katie Moffitt, UPLC Coach!

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

Katie, what’s your story?

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

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Ice molds!

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

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

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

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

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Katie’s “dictionfairy” costume.

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

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

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Trivia team


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

Children, Families, Survivors, Our Nation, and Humanity Deserve Better Than Family Separation and Family Detainment

George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

During a shameful era of our nation’s history, then-President Franklin Roosevelt isolated thousands of people of Japanese ancestry and forced them into concentration camps under the guise of national security. Although separation of families was not part of the policy, over a thousand people were incarcerated and unable to communicate with their family members. Of those forced into detainment, at least 17,000 were children under the age of ten. Conditions of the concentration camps included overcrowding and excessive police force and brutality.

Now, a little over 70 years since the closing of the last American concentration camp, history has been doomed to repeat itself. In April, the Trump administration passed a “zero-tolerance” policy of forced separation of migrant families – which resulted in the separation of more than 2,000 migrant children from their parents. Then, last week, Trump issued an executive order ending the forced separation and instead replacing it with indefinite family detention, meaning that “children would be held in facilities that are essentially jails with their parents for months, or even years, until they ultimately received legal status — or, more likely, until they were finally deported.”

It has been proven that exposure to such toxic stress in children’s leaves – whether it’s getting forcibly removed from their parents or suffering detainment during their childhoods – has serious, long-term consequences for children’s development. Such toxic stress can lead to stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol flooding children’s systems – hormones that over time can start killing off neurons and thus resulting in consequences that may cause not only learning and behavioral problems, but physical and mental health problems as well.

Jack Shonkoff, the director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, has stated that with each day that children are separated from their parents, their stress responses are persistently triggered – thus “having a wear and tear effect on their developing brains and all of their biological systems.” Not only does this severely impact the 2,000+ children who have already been forcibly separated from their parents, without a concrete plan for their reunification, but also the children who will now be indefinitely detained. Even for families that do not get separated, their detainment can “compromise a parent’s role as ‘parent,’” as well as “undermine the critical parent-child relationship.”

A 2015 report on the harmful impacts of family detention on children stated that children in detention facilities are ten times more likely than adults to experience symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It was also reported by medical experts that detention conditions could have life-long consequences for a child’s academic, economic, and social development. Furthermore, a therapist who worked with many previously-interned Japanese-American clients, stated that such trauma “manifests decades later as depression, strained family relationships, and a lifelong sense of undeserved guilt and fear of authority.”

Studies have shown that as adverse childhood experiences (ACE) – which include parental separation, incarcerated household members, emotional neglect, and physical neglect – increase, so did the risk of experiencing sexual violence in adulthood. This means that by forcibly separating children from their parents or incarcerating them with their families, the administration is subjecting children to adverse childhood experiences that can leave them vulnerable to violence as they grow older.

Additionally, the aforementioned fear of authority that results from the trauma of being detained during childhood can prevent the currently detained or separated children from seeking help later on in life if they experience sexual or domestic violence. Regardless of the outcome of immigration policies – whether these children are deported from the United States or if they’re given a path to citizenship – this fear of authority instilled in them from a young age will likely continue to haunt them long after the inhumane immigration policies are removed.

Similarly, this cruelty towards undocumented immigrants – as epitomized by the separation and detainment of young children – will further increase the fear of authority for undocumented persons currently living in the US. Various reports have already shown that many survivors of domestic or sexual violence do not seek help due to their fear of deportation. In fact, according to a NY Times article published in 2017, reports of sexual and domestic violence among Latinxs across the country have had a sharp downturn since the 2016 presidential election – which many experts attribute to the increased fears of deportation. And now, with this cruel and immoral immigration policy, this fear of authority and fear to seek help will likely only worsen for undocumented survivors of violence. This means survivors may be forced to stay in unsafe situations and have less access to support.

If children are not immediately reunited with their parents and if our nation continues to impede reproductive justice by revoking parents’ rights to parent their children in safe, supportive environments, we will be a nation that traumatizes children and fails to protect and support survivors of violence. First Focus, an organization dedicated to prioritizing children and families in federal policy decisions, suggests child-friendly alternatives to detaining families, such as community-based programs that address families awaiting their immigration proceedings. Not only are such programs significantly more cost-efficient, ranging from 70 cents to $17 dollars a day instead of the $373 daily cost of detaining a mother or child, but they allow children to live in a home setting, enroll in school, and can assist their families in connecting to crucial legal assistance and social services.

Today, I ask us all to remember. Remember our past. Remember our nation’s – and humanity’s – shameful times, as to not repeat them. And remember our most glorious times – the times when we exhibited kindness, the times when we protected those who were most vulnerable, the times when we made sure that good triumphed over evil. And, many, many years from now, may we remember today as a time when families were safe, when children were protected, and when humanity remained steadfast in the fight for justice.



Featured image source: https://www.zazzle.com/immigrant_justice_mini_poster-228432137731714096



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

Welcome Quan Williams, UPLC Coach!

We welcomed two incredible additions to the Action Alliance staff in May–both Coaches for our new Underserved Populations Learning Collaborative (UPLC). They are Quan Williams and Katie Moffitt. This week we’re focusing on Quan; keep reading for a bit of insight into her hopes for her new position and a few everyday things that bring her joy. Stay tuned for Katie’s introduction in two weeks!

Quan Williams is a native of Chicago, Illinois, and was raised in Southern California.  She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from California State University, Northridge. In 2011, she graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a Master’s degree in Urban Planning and Policy.  There, she received the Rob Mier Scholarship Award for urban planners committed to social justice for neighborhoods and residents. She is a class of 2015 graduate from the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University where she earned a Master’s Degree in Divinity.  Her professional interest is centered at the intersection of Public Policy and Advocacy.

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

An UPLC Coach is a Project Coach for the Underserved Populations Learning Collaborative.

The UPLC is a partnership between the Action Alliance, the Virginia Department of Social Services, the Department of Criminal Justice Services and community sexual and domestic violence agencies to build capacity in providing culturally responsive and trauma-informed services and programs to underserved populations. We will do so by working directly with community sexual and domestic violence agencies to integrate social justice, racial justice, and changes in policy and practice at all levels of the organization.

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

One of my goals is to provide excellent support and technical assistance to the selected agencies that will participate in the project.

What’s your favorite accessory?

Scarves. I legit have dozens of scarves. One of the best things about a chilly day is wearing a wonderful scarf.

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Favorite magazine?

It’s a tie between Ebony Magazine & Time Magazine.

Favorite band?

The Roots. Hands down.  But Common’s new group August Greene is becoming a close second.

What do you do when you’re not working?

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Church events. Movies. Watching sports. Good August Wilson type theater. Live music. Learning to play the guitar. I’m also an amateur photographer with an old school manual camera; I specialize in black and white pics.  And I’m trying to improve my health and enjoy weight training.


To reach  Quan, email Quan at qwilliams@vsdvalliance.org.To learn about the UPLC project, visit our website here.

Meet Laura Chow Reeve, Youth Resilience Coordinator!

The Action Alliance is thrilled to introduce to you Laura Chow Reeve, our new Youth Resilience Coordinator! Laura comes to us from LA, Philly, and most recently Jacksonville Florida. She took a few moments to talk with us about her path, her loves, and what lights her up about prevention work. 

Laura, what’s your story?

I’ve moved across the country, bouncing from coast to coast, three times. I’ve lived in Los Angeles and Philadelphia, but most recently, I lived and soaked up some magic in Jacksonville, FL (and its surrounding natural springs).

While in Jacksonville I worked directly with LGBTQ+ survivors of sexual violence, and I have always been invested in working with youth and doing social justice and anti-oppression work. For the past 6 years, I have worked with Girls Rock Camps, programs that use music and creative expression as tools to fight for intersectional gender justice. I first started at Girls Rock Philly and continued to do work with the Girls Rock Camp Alliance, an international network of over 100 camps, in various roles. (I encourage you to check out your local Girls Rock or Queer Rock camp! I’m a proud supporter of Girls Rock! RVA here in Richmond!)

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I have a MA in Asian American Studies from UCLA where I completed a collection of short stories that explores intimacies of the queer mixed-race body through magical, speculative, and fabulist forms. While at UCLA I also helped co-found a workshop for writers of color on campus and taught undergraduate Gender Studies and Asian American Studies Classes.

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I’m currently working on a collection of short stories and have a novel project still very much in its infancy. My writing has been published online and has been anthologized. One of the most exciting moments in my writing career was when LeVar Burton read my short story “1,000-Year-Old Ghosts” on his podcast LeVar Burton Reads. I am also the Southern editor of Joyland, an online magazine that publishes fiction and non-fiction.

What lights you up about prevention work?

For me, prevention work is anti-oppression work and vice versa. I love having big movement building conversations, using our brains and hearts to imagine the world we want to live in and then build towards that vision together. I also love the day-to-day, working on new curriculum, sharing resources, and supporting folks doing prevention work in their communities. I feel fired up when we talk about the ways in which prevention work is connected to transformative justice, racial justice, economic justice, reproductive justice and queer liberation, and even more so when we start doing that work with other folks in our communities.

If you were an animal (besides a human), what kind of animal would you be and why?

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There is this short story by Ken Liu that I love called “Good Hunting” about shape-shifting fox spirits (huli jing, Chinese mythological creatures/spirits). I want to be a shape-shifting fox spirit.

What’s one goal you have for your first year as the new Youth Resilience Coordinator?

I’m excited to explore new ways to engage with youth in our space, whether that look like a camp, youth training opportunities, or a youth advisory council! I’m about to head to North Carolina to observe NCCASA’s Young Advocates Institute in July to get some inspiration. I hope to dedicate lots of energy into clarifying how we make space for youth leadership and voices in our work at the Alliance.


Laura can be reached at lchowreeve@vsdvalliance.org or 804-377-0335 x 2109. Drop her a line and welcome her to Virginia!

On The Violence Against Women Act: Ensuring We Don’t Harm Those We Seek to Help

“VAWA has changed the landscape for victims who once suffered in silence. Victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking have been able to access services, and a new generation of families and justice system professionals has come to understand that domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking are crimes that our society will not tolerate.” –  The National Domestic Violence Hotline

The Violence Against Women Act is up for reauthorization in 2018. While helping to establish essential, coordinated responses to sexual and intimate partner violence, some advocates believe VAWA’s affiliation with the criminal legal system has also resulted in unintended consequences that harm survivors. VAWA reauthorization this year offers us an opportunity to create a VAWA that gets us closer to the world we want.

THE GOOD: VAWA PROVIDES MANY IMPORTANT, LIFE-SAVING SERVICES

First established in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has had a lasting impact on survivors of sexual and domestic violence, as well as the communities serving them. The Act has provided life-changing services for the survivors of violence. These services include:

Through these services, VAWA has not only worked to prevent violence through tools such as education, but also played a significant role in easing the burden on survivors. This is exemplified through its housing protections, as well as its ban on states charging rape survivors for forensic sexual assault examinations, among many other provisions.

According to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the rate of IPV against females [1] declined 53% between 1993 and 2008, after the passage of VAWA. Similarly, the IPV rate against males declined 54%. Furthermore, between 1993 and 2007, the number of homicide victims killed by intimate partners fell 29%. Based on data from the National Crime Victimization Survey, between 1993 and 2008, the reported rate of rape or sexual assault against females declined by 70%, and the reported rate of rape or sexual assault against males declined by 36%.

THIS YEAR, VAWA IS DUE FOR REAUTHORIZATION – A PERFECT OPPORTUNITY FOR REVISIONS TO THE ACT

Every five years, VAWA expires; with the last reauthorization of VAWA taking place in 2013, the Act is due for reauthorization this year. Over the past two decades since the initial passage of VAWA, the Act has been successfully reauthorized three times – each time with a set of revisions. VAWA’s first reauthorization took place in 2000 and allowed for additional protections for immigrants who are survivors of violence, a new program for survivors in need of transitional housing, funds for rape prevention and education, and an inclusion of survivors of dating violence. In 2005, VAWA’s reauthorization added programs for indigenous people who are survivors of violence. VAWA’S latest reauthorization, in 2013, added provisions targeting human trafficking, provisions for LGBTQ individuals, and provisions for tribal courts to have jurisdiction over domestic or dating violence offenses committed by non-Native people.

THE BAD: VAWA HAS HAD UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES THAT COULD HARM THE VERY PEOPLE IT SEEKS TO HELP

While VAWA has generally grown more inclusive and comprehensive over the years, it has also had unintended and unfortunate consequences. Passed with the intent to recognize and treat domestic violence as a serious crime rather than a private family matter, VAWA has contributed to the expansion of the role of the criminal legal system in cases of gender-based violence. Furthermore, the Act “encouraged states to adopt mandatory arrest policies that allowed domestic violence cases to move forward without the cooperation of victims.” One of the unintended consequences of such policies is that if police are unable to detect the primary aggressor at the scene of an altercation, they can simply arrest both parties – thus further contributing to additional trauma for victims of violence.

Mandatory arrest policies can also discourage some survivors from reporting domestic violence due to the fear that their partners, who may be the family’s only earner, will be immediately arrested and jailed. This means that domestic violence victims can actually be in even more danger, as they feel unable to seek help. In fact, a Harvard study, which used FBI Supplementary Homicide Reports, found that mandatory arrest laws actually increased intimate partner homicides – thus “harming the very people they seek to help.”

ADVOCATES SUGGEST REALLOCATING MORE FUNDS TO SERVICES FOR SURVIVORS INSTEAD OF INVOLVEMENT IN THE CRIMINAL LEGAL SYSTEM

Many advocates hope the next reauthorization will disconnect VAWA’s funds from its close involvement in a criminal legal system that often marginalizes people of color and breaks up families, thus leaving people more vulnerable to violence. Researchers have noted that VAWA’s connection to the criminal legal system fails to address the actual causes of intimate partner violence (IPV), which are highly correlated with economic distress. Additionally, the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence notes that “lack of employment opportunities, low wages, lack of affordable housing and social supports such as childcare dramatically affect the ability of battered women to escape violence and rebuild their lives.” If VAWA funding devoted to the criminal legal system could instead be reallocated to services – such as transitional housing – that help survivors of IPV leave abusive partners, we would be closer to achieving a victim-centered approach and ensuring that, in our response to violence, we do not promote a cycle of incarceration that ultimately results in more violence.

As we envision the future we hope to live in, we dream up a world where everyone is able to live safely without the threat or fear of domestic and sexual violence. Safety also means a nation where mass incarceration no longer traps more than 2.2 million people behind bars, leaving them and their families vulnerable to economic hardship and more violence. By reauthorizing VAWA this year, and de-carcerating it in the process, we can be one step closer to making this dream a reality.


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

[1] The report does not address transgender and gender non-conforming individuals.

Featured image source: http://inamerica.blogs.cnn.com/2013/01/04/debate-over-violence-against-women-act-centers-on-the-vulnerable/

Justice. Healing. Liberation. 2018

From May 2nd through 4th, in Glen Allen, Virginia, the Action Alliance hosted our Justice. Healing. Liberation. conference for 140 advocates, law enforcement, preventionists, attorneys, case managers, and more. We held 32 workshops presented by over 40 presenters, a panel of 5 incredible storytellers, and 3 inspiring keynotes. Our conference included daily yoga sessions, two passionate performances by the Latin Ballet of Virginia, and a fundraising paint night hosted by Lynn Black from Paint for Good.

“[The conference] opened my eyes to struggles our clients go through and how we can help them cope with it.” -Conference attendee

We began on Wednesday, May 2nd, with a Trauma 101 session that offered our attendees a base understanding of different types of trauma, how trauma manifests, and its impact on the brain and body. Then, we dove into the nitty gritty. Attendees could choose from five different workshops during any time slot throughout the course of the day. Workshops covered topics from supporting human trafficking survivors, to looking at the intersections of trauma, oppression, and racial justice, and walking through a case study of intimate partner violence from the perspective of a law enforcement officer.

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Arianna Sessoms from James Madison University delivers a workshop about how to integrate racial justice practices into trauma response.

In the evening, the Latin Ballet of Virginia put on a vibrant performance that brought us back together as a group and re-energized us after a long day of learning. Our keynote, Dr. Dawn O’Malley, Fellow at the Child Trauma Academy, taught us about the history of brain science, and how critical the last 20 years of research have been for our understanding of how trauma impacts the brain. We concluded our evening with a dinner reception with distinguished guests, including Attorney General Mark Herring, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Daniel Carey, Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services, Gena Boyle, and Commissioner of the Department of Social Services, Duke Storen.

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The Latin Ballet of Virginia

Thursday was focused on the power of storytelling, and how telling our stories can be a critical step in the healing process for survivors, as well as a source of inspiration and guidance for those who have experienced similar struggles. We started out with another performance by the Latin Ballet, whose movement and music told stories of hardship and joy. We even had some audience members and Action Alliance staff join them on stage. Then our keynote, John Richardson-Lauve from ChildSavers spoke to us about how telling one’s story after a traumatic event can foster resilience.

“I just LOVED it.  The food was great, the workshops were very informative, the dancing entertainment was a breath of fresh air and the keynote speakers and panel discussion were inspiring.” -Conference attendee

Next, we hosted our “Storytelling as Transformative Justice” panel, with KJ Delgado from the Virginia Anti-Violence Project, Lieutenant Deuntay Diggs with the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office, Gaynell Sherrod from Virginia Commonwealth University, Rodney Lofton of Diversity Richmond, and Lisette Johnson, writer of Shameless Survivors. We were honored to hear these inspiring individuals share their stories, and learned about how stories can change hearts and move minds. The rest of the afternoon was dedicated to workshops focused on survivor stories, both heard and unheard. Participants had the opportunity to view and discuss the documentary Baltimore Rising, look at the intersections of sex education in the United States, and understand the process of fatality reviews in the state of Virginia.

 “The best part of this conference were all the different workshop options and what they brought to the table for learning, growth and discussion.” -Conference attendee

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Tiffany Turner-Allen from Ujima: The National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community

The final day of our conference was focused on emerging trends in the field of sexual and domestic violence, and shifting the way we respond to and prevent violence. Our keynote, Tiffany Turner -Allen from Ujima: The National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community, started the day talking about promising practices in “allyship” and her role in life as a truth-teller. This led into our workshop sessions that included topics like “Restorative Justice as a Tool for Healing from Abuse” and “Policing in the 21st Century”. We ended the day with some words of wisdom from our fearless Executive Director, Kristi VanAudenhove, who also happened to be celebrating her birthday the same day. We sang her happy birthday, enjoyed lunch and cake, and said our goodbyes.

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Happy birthday, Kristi!

These three days provided an incredible opportunity to connect, share, and inspire. For everyone who joined us, thank you so much for your energy, stories, and wisdom. We hope that you are able to take these lessons and discussions back to your communities, and we’ll see you in 2019 for our Biennial Retreat!

 


Laurel Winsor is the Events Coordinator at the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Social Justice at James Madison University in December, 2016.

Empowering Survivors, Curing Stigma: Trauma-Informed Advocacy for Survivors Living with Mental Illness

This May marks the 69th anniversary of Mental Health Month in the United States. The purpose of Mental Health Month is to increase awareness of mental health issues and to empower individuals who live with mental health issues; to challenge stigma; and to help those who suffer heal emotional and psychological wounds.[1]

Sexual assault and intimate partner violence can have significant mental health consequences for survivors.[2] As attorneys and advocates who work with survivors, it is our responsibility to be aware of the signs of trauma in our clients, to ensure that our representation does not worsen the harm done to a client or create additional harms, and to zealously advocate on our clients’ behalf. Many, if not most, survivors who live with mental health, substance use, or trauma-related issues are fully capable of engaging in survivor-driven representation. These clients can make informed decisions about their case, and can understand, deliberate upon, and reach conclusions about matters affecting their own well-being.[3]

Wellness Cairns

There are myriad ways that advocates and attorneys can challenge the stigma surrounding mental illness and offer concrete assistance to survivors who have experienced trauma resulting from multiple victimizations. Attorneys for survivors who are dealing with mental health issues can assist clients by:

  • Recognizing that survivors may be unable to recall all the details of the abuse or violence;
  • Providing options and the time and space for survivors to make fully informed decisions;
  • Validating the survivor’s feelings throughout the process;
  • Being responsive to a survivor’s requests for information and support, even if she asks for the same information several times;
  • Partnering with survivors to identify alternative coping strategies if they are engaging in self-harming behaviors;
  • Finding supports for developing alternative or additional coping strategies;
  • Connecting survivors who are experiencing a mental health crisis with a trusted mental health referral/resource;
  • Offering support to survivors who are using alcohol and/or drugs by safety planning and strategizing to the greatest extent possible at the time (including assessing risks and developing strategies that mitigate the risks posed by alcohol and drug use) and encouraging them to contact you again;
  • Gaining an understanding of the ways in which a client’s unique challenges may impact her ability to engage in the advocacy process;
  • Tailoring interviewing and counseling approaches to meet the needs of and maximize the self-determination of each individual client;
  • Developing a basic understanding of trauma-related and mental health conditions that survivors may experience;
  • Being skilled in listening and asking questions to understand a survivor’s perspective and needs; and
  • Understanding what information and options to offer to meet those needs.[4]

Survivor-driven advocacy requires that attorneys tailor their advocacy approach to meet the unique needs of survivors. It is within the context of a respectful, survivor-driven relationship that lawyers can provide opportunities for survivors experiencing trauma and mental health challenges to access the resources they need and to exercise greater control over their own lives.


Janice Craft is one of two attorneys with the Project for Empowerment of Survivors (PES) at the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. Prior to her work with the Action Alliance, Janice served as the statewide policy director for NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and clerked for the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals of Virginia. Janice is a graduate of William and Mary Law School, where she served as Editor-in-Chief of the William & Mary Journal of Women and the Law. You can reach Janice and the rest of the PES team at legal@vsdvalliance.org.


[1] Mental Health America, http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/may (last visited May 4, 2018).

[2] See, e.g., the National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health, http://www.nationalcenterdvtraumamh.org/ (last visited May 4, 2018).

[3] See, e.g., Comment 1 to Rule 1.14 of the Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct, available at http://www.vsb.org/pro-guidelines/index.php/main/print_view (last visited May 4, 2018).

[4] See Seighman, Mary M., et al., “Representing Domestic Violence Survivors Who Are Experiencing Trauma and Other Mental Health Challenges: A Handbook for Attorneys” (2011), available at http://www.nationalcenterdvtraumamh.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/AttorneyHandbookMay282012.pdf (last visited May 4, 2018).

Meet the Action Alliance’s new Prevention Director, Kat Monusky!

The Action Alliance is excited to welcome Kat Monusky to the team as our new Prevention and Community Wellness Director!

Kat has been working as the Prevention Program Coordinator at WCSAP—the Washington State Sexual Assault Coalition–for 7 years, during which time she has changed the landscape and evolution of prevention in Washington State. In this role, one of Kat’s priorities has been to bring the voices of local programs to statewide and national processes, and to make the significant funding and programming shifts necessary to ensure that coalition prevention work is responsive to the needs of local programs.

Kat has dreamed up and managed a variety of new statewide prevention initiatives from start to finish, including a multi-year pilot project on child sexual abuse prevention to push local programs out of their comfort zones and toward best practices and a new statewide Prevention Mentor Program. She has managed Washington’s large-scale, statewide Sexual Assault Awareness Month campaign for seven years, including the creation and distribution of materials, along with managing the WCSAP SAAM website and social media.

Kat and pups

In the realm of writing and publications, Kat has developed content for over 40 Prevention Tips, ‘special edition’ resources, and prevention pages of the WCSAP website. She has also been in charge of producing 11 volumes of WCSAP’s nationally-recognized “Partners in Social Change” (PISC) journal.

Kat’s connection to the work originated in Virginia. She was a survivor advocate while attending VCU as an undergraduate and in graduate school, and joined the Action Alliance Prevention Team as an intern in 2010. As Kat says, “My career began in working directly with survivors, and that experience keeps me grounded in the anti-violence and anti-oppression frameworks that guide my work.”

About her new position, Kat says, “I’m so grateful to have been able to learn from and grow with the amazing network of preventionists and advocates in Washington State. But I’m also so excited to return to Virginia and join the fantastic team at the Action Alliance! Looking forward to learning about the unique social change efforts that run through Virginia, and hopefully to meet many of you soon.”


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

On an Unjust Justice System: Innocent Until Proven Poor

Our country’s system of cash bail doesn’t work like you were probably taught. Every year, millions of people are coerced into paying money bail after they’re arrested in order to remain free while their cases are processed. Even though these individuals are still innocent in the eyes of the law, they and their families or communities are forced to pay non-refundable ten percent deposits to for-profit bail bonds companies. Rather than helping to ensure that defendants return to court for future court hearings (a reminder phone call works just as well), the cash bail system fuels mass incarceration and disproportionately impacts Black and low-income communities. 

Oftentimes, young children are fed certain beliefs to give them a basic understanding of how the world works. They are told that doctors make them feel better when they are sick, that prison is where bad people go so they don’t harm others, that their teachers are always to be trusted, that the justice system rights wrongs and makes the world a more just place.

As we grow older, it is imperative that we question the beliefs we were taught and analyze them for ourselves to search for the truth – if any – within them. Today, I ask you to challenge your beliefs about the “justice” system and its accompanying money bail system.

How many people does this affect?

Here in the land of the free, there are 646,000 people locked up in more than 3,000 local jails – of these people, 70 percent have yet to be convicted of a crime and are legally presumed innocent. Who are they, you may ask, and why are they there? According to data from the non-profit, non-partisan Prison Policy Initiative (PPI), fewer than 30 percent of those currently locked up in local jails were arrested for violent crimes. And the reason they are still there? It has a lot to do with the United States’ system of money bail.

Through the money bail system, defendants are required to pay a certain amount of money as a pledged guarantee that they will attend future court hearings. Defendants who are unable to come up with that money, however, can be incarcerated from the time of their arrests until their cases are resolved or dismissed in court – a process that can, sometimes, take up to 10 years. The Pretrial Justice Initiative found that most people detained pretrial will receive “dismissals, no jail time, or a jail sentence less than time served in pretrial detention.” It seems that the “constitutional principle of innocent until proven guilty only really applies to the well off.”

Bail amounts are often equivalent to a full year’s income

According to PPI’s research, which uses Bureau of Justice Statistics data, the median annual income for people in jail, prior to incarceration, was $15,109 – this is less than half (48 percent) of the median for people of similar ages who are not incarcerated. Since those in jail are drastically poorer than non-incarcerated individuals, it is oftentimes extremely difficult for them to pay the required bail amount. In fact, the nationwide median bail amount is almost equivalent to a full year’s income for the typical person unable to meet a bail bond.

Also important to note in these statistics is the fact that Black women had the lowest incomes prior to incarceration. This means that the money bail system especially harms Black women, as they are the least likely to be able to afford their bail amount. Many may have heard the story of Sandra Bland, a Black woman who died in custody in July 2015, after being unable to afford the $515 amount. Sadly, this story is not hers alone. In that same month, five additional Black women died in jails around the country waiting to post bail, the majority on minor shoplifting charges.

The money bail system further disadvantages people of color, as data presented by the Pretrial Justice Institute found that Hispanic men had a 19-percent higher bail than white men, while black men had bail amounts 35 percent higher than white men.

Cash bail often triggers housing, employment and custody crises

The bail system further exacerbates a system of poverty. According to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 71 percent of inmates were employed when they were arrested. As stated in the aforementioned article by Brave New Films, “there is no way to calculate how many of those people will lose their jobs because they can’t afford to bail out and will fail to come to work, or how many will lose their housing as a result of the downward spiral.” Additionally, people can also lose custody of their children during this jail time – thus leaving entire families more vulnerable to violence.

Huge profits for bail bonds corporations; a cycle of poverty for individuals

Like most instances of injustice, this has dire consequences not only on those directly affected, but on family members as well. One practice for families that cannot afford bail is to enter into financial agreements with bail-bonds corporations. A practice that is only present in the United States and the Philippines, these for-profit bail businesses require individuals to pay a non-refundable portion of the total bail amount to a bail-bonds company. Even if there’s no conviction, defendants and their families will never get that money back. Not only do these bail bonds “often leave families paying loan installments and fees even after a case is resolved,” but they can even result in property loss if a house or other asset was selected as collateral.

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Source: Prison Policy Initiative

Jurisdictions that limit or eliminate their use of money bail often have equally high – if not even higher – percentages of people showing up for their court dates.

Cash bail can/should be eliminated

Instead of utilizing the money bail system, which further disadvantages people of color, especially Black women, courts could adopt non-financial forms of release, such as release on own recognizance – in which a person is released “after promising, in writing, to appear in court for all upcoming proceedings.” Additionally, instead of arresting people, police could issue more citations – “orders to appear before a judge on a given date to defend against a stated charge” without having to serve jail time or be subjected to pay money bail. It is also worth noting that jurisdictions that limit or eliminate their use of money bail often have equally high – if not even higher – percentages of people showing up for their court dates.

You can help us TAKE ACTION

As we rethink our own beliefs about money bail, let us not forget those who are currently suffering the consequences of this unjust system. Currently, the Action Alliance is supporting Southerners on New Ground (SONG)’s Black Mamas Bail Out Action – a project to free as many Black women as possible (cis and trans) to bring them home to their families for Mother’s Day. Join us today in supporting this cause and reuniting families for Mother’s Day.

On May 10, the Action Alliance will host, “Getting Our People Free: What is Bail Reform and Why Do We Need It?”. This teach-in will be held 5pm-7pm at the Action Alliance office and is co-sponsored by the Richmond Chapter of Southerners on New Ground. Join us for community, conversation, snacks, and to learn more about how to end money bail.

Cover image source: https://www.injusticewatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/FullSizeRender-1170×889.jpg


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

Healthcare is a Human Right

Ignoring medical need is violence.” – Coretta Scott King

As Virginia’s General Assembly began a special session last Wednesday to approve a state budget, all eyes were on Medicaid expansion. While we continue our fight to #SupportSurvivors and #ExpandMedicaidVA, it is imperative we remember that the latter is critical for the former.

From STI/HIV testing and treatment to forensic rape exams conducted by a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner and ongoing visits with primary care physicians or counselors, survivors of sexual violence need access to a range of medical services not only in the immediate aftermath of violence, but over the span of their lives. These physical and mental healthcare services reduce the effects of trauma and help survivors rebuild their lives.

Although Medicaid currently provides health insurance coverage for almost one million Virginians, hundreds of thousands of people in Virginia remain uninsured. If Virginia does not expand Medicaid, many will remain in a coverage gap – having incomes above the Medicaid eligibility limits (in 2017, the limit was at or below $28,180 for a family of three), but below the lower limit for Marketplace premium tax credits.

For survivors who fall in this coverage gap and are left without health insurance, there may not always be many options to receive the proper care and medical attention they need. In fact, according to the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, the estimated lifetime cost of rape is $122,461 per survivor, or a population economic burden of nearly $3.1 trillion over survivors’ lifetimes (based on data indicating >25 million U.S. adults have been raped) with $1.2 trillion being attributed to medical costs. If Medicaid is expanded, 400,000 Virginians could get access to quality, affordable health insurance, which would result in more access to life-saving medical services for survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence.

93 percent

Source: Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance

Furthermore, Medicaid benefits include family planning services, comprehensive maternity care, treatment for chronic conditions, treatment for breast and cervical cancer, and long-term care services and supports. Additional services covered by many state Medicaid programs also include case management, transportation, and childbirth and infant education services. This means that if Medicaid is expanded, the burden on sexual and domestic violence programs to fulfill these needs would be reduced.

Join us in taking action now to stand with survivors of violence by supporting Medicaid expansion.

In fact, in 2016, 93% of survivors accessing sexual and domestic violence services reported receiving help with healthcare coverage/costs. This not only shows that healthcare is among the top priorities for survivors in Virginia, but further illustrates how Medicaid expansion may reduce the service burden for local sexual and domestic violence agencies.

Additionally, according to a report by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women who have experienced domestic violence are 8o% more likely to have a stroke, 70% more likely to have heart disease, and 60% more likely to have asthma than women who have not experienced domestic violence. If Medicaid is expanded in Virginia, more survivors of violence would have access to the life-saving medical services they need.

Regardless of income, all survivors of violence should be able to receive the medical and mental health services needed to help them heal. Expanding access to healthcare means better safety and wellness for survivors. Join us in taking action now to stand with survivors of violence by supporting Medicaid expansion.

Featured image source: Associated Press


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