Thinking Back, Looking Forward: 2017 in Review

2017 had a lot in store for us here at the Action Alliance. Together we were able to reach new heights and overcome the largest obstacles. We thank you for all of your support in 2017! But before we leap into 2018, we invite you to take a look at all that we were able to accomplish together this year.

Building Healthy Futures

In April we hosted our 5th installment of the Building Healthy Futures conference series, in partnership with the Virginia Department of Health and Virginia Department of Social Services. This year’s theme was Linking Public Health & Activism to Prevent Sexual & Intimate Partner Violence. We were honored to have Maheen Kaleem and Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs as our keynote speakers and many others as trainers.

Bravery: Asking “What If?” and “Why Not?”

We hosted over 180 advocates across the state at this year’s biennial retreat at Radford University, where our theme was Bravery. We acknowledged our Catalyst Award honorees, Soyinka Rahim guided us as our Conference Weaver, caped crusader Nan Stoops delivered our opening keynote, and Nubia Peña and Cynthia Peña gave an incredible joint keynote on the final day of the conference. In between we learned, questioned, and practiced self-care with the guidance of advocates statewide.

2017-3.jpg

Bridging the Justice Gap in Virginia

Our newly-launched Project for the Empowerment of Survivors (“PES”) helps to bridge the justice gap in Virginia by connecting survivors of intimate partner violence with the legal services they need. The PES seeks to bridge the justice gap for survivors in the following ways:

  • By partnering with local sexual assault and domestic violence agencies to identify survivors who need legal services;
  • By employing dedicated legal interns and advocates to answer legal questions and provide legal information to survivors;
  • By employing on-staff attorneys to provide free legal counsel and advice to survivors;
  • By referring survivors to community-based private attorneys who agree to take cases on a reduced fee or pro bono basis;
  • By training attorneys and advocates to provide trauma-informed legal services and legal advocacy; and
  • By helping survivors from marginalized communities pay for private attorneys through the use of our Legal Fund.

Uplifting the Voices of Our Communities

As an agency we came together to support two marches this year: the March for Black Women and the Juvenile Justice parade. In conjunction with the March for Black Women, we also hosted our very own (and very first!) Black Women’s Town Hall. Black women throughout the community (including Delegate McQuinn, Delegate Airde, and Delegate Price) gathered in our office to voice concerns within the community.

2017 in review 1

Partnering with Governor McAuliffe to Support Survivors

We were pleased to accept a donation of $57,535 from Governor Terry McAuliffe in support of ending sexual and domestic violence and sexual harassment statewide. Governor McAuliffe  further demonstrated his support for victims and survivors in the Commonwealth. We applaud Governor McAuliffe for his act of generosity and look forward to continued partnerships with the Governor’s Office and the Virginia General Assembly in this work

Writing Our Future Story

Members from across the state of Virginia came together for our final membership meeting of the year. During this meeting, they took a step back from the world’s current state and imagined the world that they would like to leave behind for their descendants. This dreaming and asking the questions “what if?” and “why not?” will guide us in 2018 as we create a blueprint to build that new world.

Honoring Those Whose Actions Give Us Hope

Thanks to our dedicated staff and Act Honor Hope Committee, we were able to host one of our most successful Act Honor Hope events to date! With nearly 200 advocates from across the state in attendance, we honored the groundbreaking work of Senator Jennifer McClellan and Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn, SARA, and a passionate group of students from Charlottesville High School. Together they ensured that legislation was passed incorporating the concept of consent into healthy relationship education in Virginia’s public schools.

2017 in review 2

Bridging the Justice Gap in Virginia

The Action Alliance’s newly-launched Project for the Empowerment of Survivors (“PES”) helps to bridge the justice gap in Virginia by connecting survivors of intimate partner violence with the legal services they need.

Since 1993, the Action Alliance has provided sexual assault and domestic violence survivors with emotional support, safety planning, and other trauma-informed services through its toll-free statewide hotline. Over the years, the hotline (and the demand for hotline services) has grown by leaps and bounds, including by adding a dedicated LGBTQ+ helpline, expanding hotline hours to provide 24/7/365 support, and increasing the number of multilingual advocates who are available to answer calls from survivors.

The PES, the hotline’s new legal services division, is a natural outgrowth of these existing services. Survivors often have legal questions in addition to other inquiries. While some callers can access the legal services they need through Legal Aid or other pro bono resources, numerous studies confirm the ever-widening justice gap in Virginia and elsewhere.

The “justice gap” refers to the civil legal needs of low-income Americans, versus the legal resources available to meet those needs.[1] In Virginia alone:

  • Over 80% of the civil legal needs of low-income individuals go unmet;
  • One in eight Virginians is eligible for free legal services from Legal Aid, but there are not enough Legal Aid attorneys available to meet the need for services;
  • There is one Legal Aid lawyer per 7,237 low-income individuals in Virginia; and
  • Individuals who have attorneys are twice as likely to have a favorable outcome in court, versus individuals who are unrepresented.[2]

The need for free or low-cost legal services is particularly acute for survivors of intimate partner violence, where “[i]ndirect and lasting economic consequences ripple throughout survivors’ lives long after the abuse has stopped, compounding their effects and creating increased vulnerability to future abuse.”[3]

Open sign-james-sutton-199643

Photo by James Sutton on Unsplash

The PES seeks to bridge the justice gap for survivors in the following ways:

  • By partnering with local sexual assault and domestic violence agencies to identify survivors who need legal services;
  • By employing dedicated legal interns and advocates to answer legal questions and provide legal information to survivors;
  • By employing on-staff attorneys to provide free legal counsel and advice to survivors;
  • By referring survivors to community-based private attorneys who agree to take cases on a reduced fee or pro bono basis;
  • By training attorneys and advocates to provide trauma-informed legal services and legal advocacy; and
  • By helping survivors from marginalized communities pay for private attorneys through the use of our Legal Fund.

If you are a survivor in need of legal services, please call our Statewide Hotline at (800) 838-8238 and ask to speak with a member of our legal team. We are here to help.

If you are an attorney who is interested in providing pro bono or reduced fee services to domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, please contact Carmen Williams, PES Project Manager, at (804) 377-0335, or email us at legal@vsdvalliance.org.


Janice Craft is one of two attorneys with the Project for Empowerment of Survivors 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.


[1] See Legal Services Corporation, America’s Partner for Equal Justice, https://www.lsc.gov/media-center/publications/2017-justice-gap-report (last accessed Nov. 17, 2017).

[2] “Access to Justice: Free and Low Cost Legal Resources in Virginia,” Virginia State Bar, available at http://www.vsb.org/docs/probono/access-guide.pdf (last accessed Nov. 17, 2017).

[3] Shoener, Sara J. & Sussman, Erika A., “Economic Ripple Effect of IPV: Building Partnerships for Systemic Change,” Domestic Violence Report (Aug./Sept. 2013), available at https://csaj.org/document-library/Shoener_and_Sussman_2013_-_Economic_Ripple_Effect_of_IPV.pdf (last accessed Nov. 17, 2017).

Writing Our Future Story: The Power of Asking “What If” and “Why Not”

Growing up I was often given titles such as difficult and nosey. I’d quickly correct those who called me the latter, “Oh no, I’m not nosey, I’m just curious.” I continuously felt a need to justify my inquisitive mind.

Over time, the need to justify myself transformed into a lack of curiosity altogether. I became exhausted with explaining why I had so many questions and sometimes even being punished for asking them. Of course, I still wondered and asked in my head, but all too often these questions were never heard outside of my own thoughts.

I now find myself wanting to reignite that fire and let the flames of curiosity burn. I have been reacquainted with the power of asking questions like “what if” and “why not”. I was reminded that being inquisitive and curious, though often seen as negative traits, are actually positive ones. Asking questions helps us create innovative ideas and anticipate what’s next.

As I sat in on the Action Alliance’s Membership meeting on Friday, December 7, we were encouraged to ask ourselves and each other “what if…”

What if education was free?

What if everyone had a home?

What if society valued compassion over money?

A space was created for us to wonder. We were allowed to imagine what could be possible in a world 500 years from now and question the obstacles that are holding us back from making our ideal future world a reality. This world where we embrace differences… where freedom, peace, and happiness are guaranteed… a world where we not only coexist with each other and the world around us, but we inter-exist.  A world where we look out for each other and we support each other.

This questioning will guide us in 2018. We will continue to ask ourselves what if and why not and imagine how the world could change and then use these thoughts to create a blueprint for our actions. We hope that creating a plan of action to create the world we want will help us leave a better home to the many generations after us.

Stay tuned for 2018 Membership Meeting dates, at which we will be building opportunities to set long-term movement trajectories and how to get there!


Ki’ara Montgomery is a recent graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a bachelor’s degree in public relations, and minors in business and gender, sexuality, and women’s studies. While in school, she had opportunities with VCU AmeriCorps, Culture4MyKids, VCU School of Education, and the Richmond Raiders. She is currently working with the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance as Member and Donor Liaison.


Featured image credit: Ki’ara Montgomery