Transgender People + Bathrooms ≠ Sexual Violence

Erika Callaway Kleiner, M.Div.

The scene opens with ominous music and what appears to be a man entering a women’s bathroom. The voice-over says that the proposed “bathroom ordinance” threatens women’s and children’s safety. The ad closes with a young girl who has gone into a single stall alone looking up fearfully into the face of the person who will assault her.

The message is crystal clear: Be afraid. Transgender people will hurt you and your children. Or, even if we do not go so far as to believe that all transgender people are dangerous, giving them basic human rights (like being able to use the public bathroom that matches their gender identity) will make all of us less safe because perpetrators will abuse the system.
This was a recent ad designed to encourage people to vote against an equal rights ordinance in Houston, Texas. This ordinance also included protection based on sex, race, ethnicity, religion and other categories. It did not pass. The fear tactics worked.

The arguments against basic human rights for transgender people are built on myths intended to play on our basic fears. But let us take a moment to debunk the myths and highlight the realities.

  1. Gender segregated space is not always safe. It is an illusion to believe that a “W” or “M” on the door to the bathroom means that the space is free of danger for women or men, respectively. People can and are assaulted by others of their own gender. Further, completely aside from transgender access to bathrooms, let us be clear: a perpetrator of violence (of whatever gender) is not deterred by the sign on the door.
  2. The vast majority of sexual assaults (82%) are perpetrated by someone known to the victim. While violence by strangers can and does happen, it is rare. We should be more worried about the adults who have everyday access to our children than who they may encounter in the bathroom.
  3. Transgender people are not any more likely to be perpetrators of violence than non-transgender people. In truth, they are more often the victims of violence and harassment. More than 1 in 2 transgender people have experienced sexual violence. That is a staggering reality even to experts in the anti-violence movement. Further, African American transgender people face even more devastating discrimination and violence.


Transgender people using the bathroom that matches their gender identity does not make us or our children less safe. There has been no increase in assaults where protections for transgender people have been enacted. It may take our culture some time to truly grasp this reality. In the meantime, trans people suffer physically and emotionally every day due to our misunderstanding and willingness to continue to believe the myths perpetrated against them.

Not only is this argument about a basic human necessity dehumanizing to transgender people, it has severe health consequences. Many trans people try NOT to go to the bathroom in public because they don’t feel safe. Sometimes they wait long periods (until after school or work) to safely go to the bathroom, which creates significant health problems. (Sylvia Rivera Law Project –

Erika Callaway Kleiner, M.Div., has been an anti-violence advocate and trainer for fifteen years.  In the last eight years, she has led and worked on projects to improve services and outreach to LGBTQ survivors of violence.


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

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email

The Cost of Freedom

Lisette D. Johnson – Survivor

Every day the price for loving the wrong person is paid with lives. Once you know this, it is impossible to ignore the news. For every one woman killed, there are eight to nine who survive an attempt. Survivors share emotional scars that intertwine with the very fiber of who we are, who we’ve become, and who our children have become. It ripples into families and communities.

The price is high. Beyond the emotional toll there is another cost of freedom; the dollar price tag not calibrated by studies. It is increased health care costs for victims of IPV (intimate partner violence) which can extend as much as 15 years after an abusive relationship is exited. Compound the extraordinary costs of survival from gun violence and the profound associated residual physical challenges. I personally know women left paralyzed, blind, brain and neurologically impaired who will require lifelong intensive medical interventions, some lifelong caregivers.

Guns and abuse are proven to be far and away the most lethal combination; not knives, bats or hammers as naysayers insist. Bullets are quick, they’re clean and shooting can be accomplished from a distance.
The cost of my freedom continued long past the initial trauma surgery and hospital stay in ICU. It includes two subsequent surgeries, periodic cardiac monitoring, extensive psychotherapy for the children and me, at one point with five therapists between the three of us, plus hospitalizations for a suicidal child. Inching close to $200,000; some, but not all of which was covered by insurance, my bills are minimal as compared to the bills of others I know.

Nothing could have prepared me for the fallout from the shooting. Recovering from the physical injuries and my trauma while navigating the solo parenting of two traumatized children proved emotionally impossible when combined with running a business with employees. I closed a business I had owned for sixteen years within months.

Some days I wonder if I’ll be done paying for someone else’s choice to shoot me. Beyond the abuse, beyond the end, beyond my children’s suffering, beyond difficult days, I failed to take into account my recovery was going to plateau. I had no way of knowing that I would continue to struggle with focus and memory, and be continually exhausted. I expected to bounce back. I took for granted that I’d be on top of things again, be sharp, have the energy and mental acuity to go out and create a living like I enjoyed before it happened. I could not have imagined how I would struggle with simple things that are so every day you don’t even know you are doing them. Acknowledging that others have challenges far greater than mine does not negate my own.

I am eternally grateful to wake up every day to another sunrise. Even my worst day now is better than my best day in my marriage. Still, there is no denying the layers of damage when I add it all up.

Lisette Johnson is a survivor of an attempted partner homicide/suicide. She is an advocate for those experiencing domestic and sexual violence and collaborates for violence prevention education and awareness.  

*Statistics: Jacquelyn Campbell PhD RN FAAN Anna D. Wolf Chair & Professor Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing Multi City Intimate Partner Femicide Study and CDC Injury Prevention and Control Division of Violence Prevention.


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

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email

#SayHerName: Intersecting race, sexual violence and activism

January 21, 2016

Today people will gather together from all over the country in Oklahoma City to Stand with Survivors of Sexual Violence as a judge sentences a former Oklahoma City police officer convicted in December on 18 charges including rape and sexual battery of 13 African-American women living in the neighborhood he was assigned to protect.  The former police office is white. Race and gender were and are at the center of this story.

Black Women’s Blueprint organized this national protest from their base in New York City—using the networks of sexual violence advocacy organizations, networks of black women’s advocacy organizations, social media and the mainstream press to send out a call to “symbolically stand with every survivor of sexual assault, rape and other sexual brutalization by State agents across the country.”  While this case is particularly abhorrent, the grim reality is that those of us who advocate at the margins—with victims of sexual violence, on issues of racial justice, in impoverished communities—are witness to many versions of this same story over and over and over.  Individuals using their position of authority to perpetrate sexual violence against those who are easily dismissed by the mainstream as “untrustworthy” or “partly to blame” for their own victimization.

Black Women’s Blueprint asserts that “racial justice movements will be stronger if we include gender-violence, sexualized brutality, and if we include the experiences of women, trans-people, gender non-conforming people and girls…”

The Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance stands with survivors in Oklahoma City today.  We urge our members and supporters to recognize that our movement to end sexual and intimate partner violence will be stronger if we recognize and listen to the experiences of African-Americans and all people of color, including trans-people and gender non-conforming people and if stand with others against hate violence and State violence.



African-American Policy Forum – Oklahoma City Days of Visibility and Accountability –          Toolkit 

#SayHerName: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women, A Social Media Guide

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. 


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

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email

Why Mandatory Testing of PERKs Matter

Kristine Hall – Policy Director


…and why the conversation cannot stop there.

Victims may choose to have a special medical exam following a sexual assault to preserve possible evidence and receive medical care. This evidence, often called a “rape kit” is called a Physical Evidence Recovery Kit (P.E.R.K. in Virginia). There’s been increased attention on “rape kit” backlogs and the success that some states are having in identifying serial offenders when they tested kits that had not previously been submitted by law enforcement.

Recently, Virginia passed legislation to conduct an inventory of untested PERKs and found over 2,300 untested kits (End the Backlog). There are plans underway for processing the kits and creating recommendations to avoid future backlogs—including mandatory submission and testing policies. While these efforts are important, our work cannot stop here. PERKs are just one aspect of an investigation. These efforts alone will not restore faith in a system that has not served victims well and that many are reluctant to use.

We must thoroughly examine the beliefs and attitudes behind PERKs sitting on shelves and how they impact other aspects of an investigation. The inventory didn’t just uncover untested PERKs. It showed that our criminal justice system continues to fail—more often than not– when it comes to sexual violence!

I heard Carrie Hull with the Ashland Police Department once say “there is no such thing as a ‘he said, she said’ case. A ‘he said, she said’ case is a poor investigation.” I have thought about this statement and wondered how more effective our response would be if this sentiment was the core of our criminal justice systems’ policies and practices.

Kristine Hall is the Policy Director of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. She has been engaged in sexual and domestic violence victim advocacy, training, and policy for over 20 years.


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

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email


Community Activism – The synergy of individuals, local centers, and state coalitions. 


This past year I have been reading stories of activism communities all over the world about interpersonal violence, rape, stalking and trafficking. The stories have similarities in the focus of gendered violence against women and transgender identified persons. The responses have been as varied as the incidents… ranging from art-based responses (Graffiti Artists), technology-based responses (Callisto: A college sexual assault reporting system), social media, (It’s On Us), journalistic responses (The Rapist Next Door), media literacy (FAAN MAIL), films (The Hunting Ground), songs (Till It Happens to You) and marching in the streets. Through the use of technology, global conversations using social media are taking place, uniting people from all over the world to join local activists attempting to make change in their communities.

For the first time ever, the conversation about rape and interpersonal violence is being held everywhere. And it’s not stopping when the Twitter chat dies out or the art exhibit is taken down. Now these conversations move rapidly from speaking out, educating the public, identifying changes needed and developing policy to improve resources, laws and funds. The conversation sparks from survivors taking agency to speak out about abuse and then moves to activism and direct action. Gone are the days where it would take years to build momentum, now it takes hours for the momentum of people engaging to reach its peak and change can be put forth within months.

This is where local centers with their community response and activism are impactful collaborators with survivors bringing their story out and helping create the changes in policy, laws and funds to work toward ending interpersonal violence, rape, stalking and harassment. A prime example here in Virginia this past, is the collaboration between survivors of rape at University of Virginia, local rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters, the Action Alliance and legislators to take the problem of rape on campus and create significant changes to laws and resources for students. Other universities joined in to show their support and help advocate, local centers around the state helped outreach their legislators to advocate and individual supporters lent their voice through social media and calls. The combined efforts of these parties kept the conversation alive and the work progressing.

campusSA-1 in 5 women_0

This is the power of community activism and the joint efforts of survivors and families, ally’s in the communities, activists with local centers, and state coalitions like the Action Alliance. This synergy can only happen with everyone involved. We must work together to keep these conversations active in order to make the change needed.

To get involved in the issues being presented in the general assembly this year, click here to see bills being presented for the 2016 General Assembly, click here to see how you can be involved and  how to communicate with your delegates and representatives, and click here to join a committee of the Action Alliance. At the Action Alliance, you can get involved in policy work, fund development, and leadership. Whatever your skill or interest is: communicating with legislators to lobby for policy change or increase in funds, being a social media activist and sharing information to bring information to the public, being an educator to local centers and allied partners to improve training, or to help raise funds in your community; you are needed.

Carol Olson is the Development Director at the Action Alliance. She was previously the Director of a local rape crisis center. She has continued to engage in community activism through her work with the Alliance and through radio at WRIR 97.3 FM. 



January 27, 2016 – 7:30am John Marshall Ballrooms, Richmond
Get Involved with Legislative Advocacy at the Action Alliance

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

Empowering Girls in Virginia to Choose If, When and Whom to Marry


If only. …How often have those of us working with survivors tortured ourselves with that question, as our last conversation with a client replays itself in our minds and we wonder what more we could do to change not only the present danger she faces, but also her whole life trajectory?

For once, there’s a clear answer – to prevent children from being forced into marriages, and the devastating harms of forced and child marriages, we can change Virginia’s laws to set the legal age of consent to marry at 18, and get rid of all exceptions other than for emancipated minors (legal adults).

Virginia already has a criminal law against forced marriage. But victims of family violence rarely want to prosecute their loved ones, and forced marriage is no different. Our civil laws need to provide additional defenses against forced marriage that individuals at risk can actually leverage.
We know that setting the marriage age at 18 is not a magic wand to end all forced marriages. Many other reforms also have to happen. But it is a powerful first step, for prevention as well as public education about what “full and free consent” to marriage really means.

And 18 is a magic age under Virginia law, when a girl is freed from legal limitations that otherwise block her self-help escape routes – at 18, for example, she can freely meet with a counselor, attorney or advocate; leave home; access shelter; and file petitions for protective orders or seek a divorce. So it is the first age she has any real agency to resist or escape a forced marriage.

Right now, Virginia has one of the most lax regimes in a 50-state patchwork of appalling marriage age-of-consent laws. Marriage license applications are granted by a court clerk upon evidence of parental consent (for 16 and 17 year olds) or parental consent and pregnancy (for those age 15 and younger). We’re one of only 10 states with a pregnancy exception, and in the minority that have no absolute minimum age. Such provisions actually facilitate forced marriages.


Statistics credited to Tahirih Justice Center

If this doesn’t trouble you, maybe you assume there are not many forced or child marriages here; that child marriages mostly involve love-struck teen couples; or that child marriages are not such cause for concern. Not so, on all counts – here is what we know:

  • Tahirih Justice Center’s 2011 national survey identified as many as 3,000 cases of forced marriage over a 2- year period, many involving girls under age 18. Our Forced Marriage Initiative staff have handled 16 cases in Virginia, about half of which involved girls under age 18.
  • From 2004-2013, nearly 4,500 children were married in Virginia, over 200 at age 15 or younger. Still more alarming *1:
    • Children as young as 13 were married*1;
    • Nearly 90% of these marriages were to an adult spouse;
    • Between 30-40% of those adults were age 21 or older; and some were decades older.

(VA Health Dept. correspondence with author, and Statistical Reports and Tables, Marriages and Divorces)

Similar statistics from New York and New Jersey, where judges are involved, reveal they cannot be counted on to safeguard children.

  • Forced marriage happens in families of diverse socio-economic, religious, and ethnic backgrounds; motivations vary; and force, fraud, and coercion tactics are wide-ranging (see Tahirih survey). Extreme emotional abuse is common, and can include threats from “I’ll kill myself” to “You will be dead to us and on your own” if the victim doesn’t submit. Families may also monitor/limit a victim’s movements, communications, and access to potential “helpers” like friends or teachers. Physical violence and threats of violence are also common.
  • Abusive partners can also force a victim into marriage. Rape is both a consequence of forced marriage, and a cause, especially for adolescents whom we know are more likely to be coerced the younger they are (see HHS report, p. 1). Likewise, intimate partner violence can be both a consequence and cause of forced marriage (see Tahirih survey and Gangashakti study). One in three U.S. girls is a victim of abuse from a dating partner, and girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rates of intimate partner violence – almost triple the national average (see factsheet). So families who force girls to marry when they find they are sexually active or pregnant, or to pre-empt sexual activity outside of marriage, are not likely protecting them from rape and abuse – but instead exposing them to that risk 24-7.
  • Girls who marry young face other serious harms, too, as documented in a 2012 article by Professor Vivian Hamilton of William and Mary Law School: 70-80% divorce rates and greater instability post-divorce; discontinued education, low wages, and higher likelihood of poverty (including because they tend to have more children, earlier, and more closely spaced); more mental health problems and worse physical health.

Changing the minimum legal age of marriage in Virginia to try to prevent the profound and lifelong harms above is a simple proposition, one that comes with minimal imposition for genuine couples who have to wait a few more years to tie the knot.

How often do we get such a chance? If only.

To learn more about Forced Marriage in the U.S., or to request help with a case, visit or contact to share your own experiences with forced and child marriages.

Jeanne Smoot is the Senior Counsel for Policy and Strategy at the Tahirih Justice Center, where for over a decade she has helped lead innovative advocacy initiatives to reduce vulnerabilities of immigrant women and girls to violence and to empower them as survivors.


The Intersectionality of Forced Marriage with Other Forms of Abuse in the United States

*1: This entry has been edited with corrections per author’s request on February 17, 2016.

January 27, 2016 – 7:30am John Marshall Ballrooms, Richmond

Get Involved with Legislative Advocacy at the Action Alliance


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

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email

Interconnected Without Falling Apart: A Tale of the Rubik’s Cube & The Future of The Training Institute

Alice in Wonderland

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’ asked Alice. “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
~ Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Do you remember playing with a Rubik’s Cube when you were a kid? I don’t know about you, but trying to solve that puzzle frustrated me to no end.

Rubiks cubeThe Rubik’s Cube has an interesting backstory. The creator of the cube did not set out to make a best-selling toy. His actual intent was to create a teaching tool for students to solve the structural problem of moving the parts independently without the entire mechanism falling apart.
The cube is made up of nine colored squares on each side that can be moved on their own, yet are still interconnected. The puzzle can be solved  in 43 quintillion different ways.  !!!

My approach was to focus on individual pieces and not the whole (“solving for pattern”, as the expression goes). As you can probably guess, I never did solve the darn thing.

What does all of this have to do with the future of the Training Institute (TI) you might ask?

In my fairly new role as the TI Coordinator, I’ve had the privilege of participating in intense discussions and strategic planning around the future of the TI. These discussions centered on the concepts of interconnectedness, strengthening existing partnerships/creating new ones, social change, and digging down to the roots of WHY we do what we do.

Stone pileAnd then there were conversations about striking a balance between the need to deliver knowledge/skill-based, evidence-informed training and the need to effect change, dismantle oppressive structures, and mobilize communities. Within the TI how would we do both? Could we do both?

Where did we want to go?

I began to see the decisions we needed to make for 2016 and beyond as a puzzle. As is my habit, I initially focused on the individual pieces – what webinar do we need next? Which dates were available for which training? Who will present at the conferences?

You get the idea.

Lightbulb idea drawingDuring one of our conversations, something clicked for me (for you Oprah fans, an “aha moment”, as it were) and I was able to understand what my supervisors were saying – to back up and look at the big picture – to think of all the individual parts in the context of a larger pattern, and to realize that, like the Rubik’s cube, the many moving pieces that make up the TI could be moved, yet stay interconnected, and that the whole structure would not fall apart. As we wrapped up our multi-year plan for the TI, I felt inspired.

2016 holds what you would normally expect from the TI, but with some new twists that we think you’ll love. We are updating and revising all of our curricula and adding new curricula that will include information from the field about how you can engage in social justice movements in your communities and beyond. We are building a training microsite, virtual peer communities, online training platforms, and more. And we are hosting TWO major statewide conferences.

In a nutshell: we will be busy. And we can’t wait.

TI logo-blue black4-shadow



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

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email


Go-VaData!! A Sherrie Goggans Legacy Project


After 20 years on the staff at the coalition, Sherrie Goggans retired from the Action Alliance at the end of December 2015!! You are invited to honor Sherrie’s work by making a contribution to her Legacy Project: Go-VAdata!!! 

VAdata is Virginia’s premiere data collection system documenting the services provided by Sexual and Domestic Violence Agencies as well as the impact of those services. Twenty years ago Sherrie was hired to coordinate the development of a new data collection system because the system that was in place for domestic violence services was not Y2K compliant (remember Y2K?). Her leadership, curiosity and hard work resulted in Virginia establishing the first web-based sexual and domestic violence services data collection system in the nation. VAdata has continued to be an innovative system–one of the first statewide systems to meet federal confidentiality requirements, adaptable to a changing funding landscape and continuously evolving to meet the needs of SDVAs.

G0-VAdata is yet another innovation that will meet the needs of advocates “on the go.” Virginia’s amazing advocates seldom do their work at a desk–often, they are out in the community as they provide crisis intervention, advocacy and support.

Your contribution will make adapted versions of the data collection forms available to advocates from their cell phones, tablets and other mobile devices–making it super simple to document services that are provided in court, in the classroom, at the local community center, or even over a holiday meal!!

Please join us in wishing Sherrie well in her retirement and by honoring her work through a contribution before the end of 2015 toward the goal of $2,000 to make Go-VAdata a reality!!

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. 


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

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email


Happy New Year 2016!


As the Action Alliance begins our 35th birthday year we are transitioning our Alliance in Action communication from the electronic newsletter you have received over the past few years—to a blog.

35 Years!! I remember 35.

I remember my friends who were worried about inching up on 40, past that magic half-way mark to likely death, given the average life-expectancy at the time. As “thirtysomethings” we were certain that 40 was a line of demarcation between being young, risk-taking social justice warriors and stodgy professionals focused on our retirement accounts. We were worried about our mortality, and we were even more worried about crossing that line. My worries had an added dimension. I would lay awake in bed at night and think about all of the changes in my life since the time I left home at the age of 18 and I would get exhausted just thinking about going through that much change again…and again if I lived to be 70!!

So now the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance is inching up on 40. As with so many non-profits that were started nearly four decades ago to bring an end to violence against women and girls, we have been through many big changes over the years. We find ourselves in a similar phase of our generational lives as “thirtysomethings,” questioning whether we are moving irrevocably from our movement roots as agents of social change to a professional service delivery system. Sexual violence and intimate partner violence are still pervasive in our communities. The progress that we have made establishing rights and services is not equally accessible to people of all genders, races, ethnicities and abilities.

So we must continue to take the risks-to demand justice-to promote deep and meaningful change. We must continue to build upon the knowledge we have gained and at the same time we must dig down deep and be fearless about leaving behind those strategies that we now understand to be flawed. Four decades of work have also taught us that this is a long journey-one that requires thoughtful strategy, sustained effort, and time for reflection, regrouping and recharging. 

We are envisioning this blog as a new way of communicating with our members and with the world on a broad range of topics. We plan to inspire, educate and amuse; in the process we hope to spark your curiosity, connect you to our work and rouse you to action. Whatever your age, whatever your experience, whatever your dreams for how we might all get to a future without violence…we hope that this blog will speak to you, we hope that you will share it with your friend and we hope that you will speak to us.

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. 


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

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email