Building a Culture of Consent in Virginia

These past few weeks in Virginia politics have not been easy. It started with a manufactured scandal surrounding Delegate Kathy Tran’s bill that would have repealed harmful TRAP laws on abortion access, including 24-hour waiting periods, requirements to obtain multiple layers of physician consent, and requirements that second-trimester abortions take place in a hospital. Soon after this, Governor Ralph Northam’s 1984 yearbook page surfaced featuring people in blackface and KKK attire. Just a few days later, Attorney General Mark Herring, who had joined in the chorus of statements urging for the resignation of Governor Northam, also admitted to donning blackface. And now, two survivors have bravely come forward to share their accounts of being sexually assaulted by Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax.

As these painful conversations continue to play out, the Action Alliance has released several statements, calling on advocates and social justice allies to address the injurious legacy of racism and white supremacy in Virginia and to seize these public conversations on sexual violence and harm as opportunities to ground ourselves in a collective mission of building a culture of consent and disentangling our accountability processes from that of the criminal justice system.

As a statewide voice on issues of sexual and domestic violence, the Action Alliance works for a radically different future where survivors are met with compassion and respect and where public conversations on harm focus on reparation and healing and on the need to invest in sexual violence prevention.

Committing ourselves to sexual violence prevention and building a culture of consent

In the age of #MeToo, we as a society are finally grappling with what community accountability might look like for those who do harm and the importance of believing survivors. These are long overdue and critical conversations to have. However, what this age of reckoning and justice-seeking also calls on us to do is to explore the nuances of cultural norms that might nurture a future in which every person has the knowledge and skills necessary to practice informed, ongoing, and enthusiastic consent. This is the antidote to sexual violence and we believe every human is deserving of experiencing healthy and joyful sexuality, centered in pleasure.

Wood word yes on a grey background

If healthy, violence-free relationships are our collective desire, then the conversation around harm can shift to focusing on how we might channel that desire into building a world in which these healthy, violence-free relationships and interactions are the norm. Here are just a few ideas for how we might call on our neighbors, families, communities, and policy leaders to invest in the prevention of sexual violence and build a culture of consent:

Provide opportunities for consent education and healthy sexuality to be taught early, often, and in multifaceted and developmentally appropriate ways in our families, schools, and communities.

Call on policy leaders to invest in sexual violence prevention and promote thriving communities in which healthy sexuality and healthy relationships are core values.

  • Ask policy leaders and stakeholders to provide schools with the resources they need to teach Family Life Education/Sex education effectively.
  • Review Virginia’s Family Life Education curricula and talk to teachers, administrators, and students about whether this education is consistent with over 30 years of research + best practices in behavior-change and health promotion.
  • Support every community in the Commonwealth having access to sexual violence prevention programming. Currently, only 6 communities in Virginia are funded by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention for this life-saving work.
  • Call on policy leaders to support funding for community-based Sexual & Domestic Violence Agencies to build and sustain prevention programming. There are no dedicated state funds for the prevention of sexual violence in Virginia.
  • Ensure that policy leaders are investing in accessible healthcare, including preventative care, for all Virginians.
  • Pay attention to whether your policy leaders are crafting and supporting tax and employment policies – like broadening paid family/medical leave and earned income tax credits – that support healthy families.

Right now, violence, harassment, and oppression are all around us. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Families and communities have the power to support transformative pivots in our culture. We can discuss these nuanced and difficult topics (like consent) with friends and neighbors, with our children, and with relatives. And we can commit ourselves to dismantling practices and norms that sustain a current culture of silence, shame, and avoidance on these topics giving way to a future in which wholeness, health, and consent are the new norms.

We at the Action Alliance have a compelling vision for a world where all of us thrive. We believe this better world is possible. We believe we are the ones we’ve been waiting for to make this future happen. We choose all of us to be a part of this future.

We seek a radically hopeful future where:

  • individuals are free and have what they need to reach their full potential;
  • relationships, families, and communities are healthy, equitable, nourishing, and joyful;
  • government, institutions and systems are rooted in equity and justice;
  • all decisions are grounded in whether they will benefit our future descendants, as well as our beautiful, sustaining earth.

With your help, this vision for a radically hopeful future – where sexual violence does not exist – really isn’t too distant.

For more information and resources on our work to prevent sexual violence in Virginia, check out TeachConsent.org, learn more about our statewide prevention projects, and support the Building Healthy Futures Fund.

Both images: Adobe Stock


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. He also likes memes and baby animals.


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

Action Alliance Statement on Sexual Assault Allegations Made Against Lt. Governor JustiFairfax

As the public conversation on sexual assault allegations against Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax continues to evolve, the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance would like to share a few of the values that are central to the work of the Action Alliance and our statewide network of sexual and domestic violence survivor advocates and preventionists:

  • Choosing to come forward and share an experience of assault can be deeply re-traumatizing. In the movement to end sexual and domestic violence, we work every single day to create an environment in which survivor stories are met with belief, support, and compassion.

 

  • There is no place for character assassination in this conversation. We start from a place of dignity and worth for every human and remind ourselves of that value as we support finding clarity and justice for both parties.

 

  • We seek to nurture a future in which every person has the knowledge and skills necessary to practice informed, ongoing, and enthusiastic consent. This is the antidote to sexual violence and we believe every human is deserving of experiencing healthy and joyful sexuality, centered in pleasure.

 

  • We focus on the harm that has been done and how to repair it, rather than deeming people “good” or “bad”. This is one of the principles of restorative justice. Most people in the world have both been harmed and have committed harm. Thinking of people as either “good” or “bad” creates a false binary and is ineffective in creating the future we believe is possible. We must learn new ways of holding each other accountable that foster growth and connection.

Featured image: AP Photo/Steve Helber

Action Alliance Statement on Governor Northam’s Yearbook Photo

As a statewide coalition fighting for racial and gender justice, we are deeply disturbed by the racist photos revealed in Governor Ralph Northam’s college yearbook and the Governor’s own admission of donning blackface, a racist and dehumanizing behavior. While abhorrent, we must acknowledge that individual acts of overt and covert racism do not happen in a vacuum. They are planted and fostered by broader—and often less visible—ideologies and structures that are driven by and support white supremacy.

Given the structural and insidious nature of racism, it is imperative that the Governor’s actions be viewed through a wider lens beyond his past behavior and his current explanations. If we remain solely focused on one man’s problematic behavior, we limit solutions to consequences for one man and miss opportunities for expansive change.

The injurious legacy of racism and white supremacy in Virginia has created structural inequalities which affect the lives of Virginians every day. Many of these mechanisms are carried out by the state. Harms include voter disenfranchisement, a cash bail system which criminalizes poverty, the trauma-to-prison pipeline, maternal mortality among Black mothers, high rates of intimate partner homicides against Black women, and mass incarceration and surveillance of communities of color, to name a few.

We can and must do better. In keeping with our values of equality and justice, the Action Alliance operates from a racial justice lens. We seek to undermine and dismantle the racist legacy of our beloved Commonwealth and re-imagine a world where the humanity and dignity of all people are recognized and embraced. In order to create a world where relationships, families and communities are healthy, equitable, and joyful, we must think and work broadly to address the underlying factors that drive domination and violence.­­

In this moment, we have all been given an opportunity to listen, reflect and mobilize to address structural racism in Virginia with renewed vigor. The Action Alliance believes that pathways to justice and healing must include listening to individuals and communities most affected, addressing harm with a focus on accountability and reparations, and always working toward wholeness and restoration. This moment calls us to reflect on big questions, such as:

  • What options exist to hold ourselves and each other accountable, for our words and behaviors, past and present, while remaining in community?
  • What can we all, including the Virginia Democratic and Republican parties, do to demonstrate a true commitment to accountability and reparations for historical racism, now and in the years ahead?
  • How can we shape government, institutions and systems so they are rooted in equity and justice?

The answers to these questions will offer us a path forward.

The Action Alliance calls upon our policy leaders to listen to and work with Black communities across Virginia to determine next steps in the hard process of reparations for the harms that have been committed against communities of color, steps that would put Virginia on a powerful path toward wholeness and liberation.


Featured image: AP Photo/Steve Helber