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 It started with a manufactured scandal surrounding Delegate Kathy Tran’s bill that would have repealed harmful TRAP laws on abortion access, including 24-hour waiting periods, requirements to obtain multiple layers of physician consent, and requirements that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.
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.
- Help teach youth and young adults the skills required to navigate relationships in healthy and consensual ways– in schools, churches, and organizations.
- Support new and expecting parents in nurturing their child’s social-emotional learning (including empathy and social connectedness) and fostering values consistent with gender equality and respect.
- Value and facilitate teaching medically accurate information on reproduction, sexual health, and physiology.
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