Nov. 5 is Our Chance to Start Building a Radically Hopeful Future– #SurvivorsVote

The background is a starry, night sky above mountains. Foreground text says, "I support protections for survivors, including living wage, racial justice, sensible gun laws, access to healthcare, safety and justice. I believe in a radically hopeful future and I vote to make it happen. Remember to vote the first Tuesday in November!" Stylized text as logo for Building Thriving Communities: a project of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance.Did you know that all 40 State Senate and 100 House of Delegates seats are up for election this November?

These members of the Virginia General Assembly will make decisions affecting the safety of our schools and communities, our healthcare, the future of Virginia’s economy, including access to livable salaries and wages, and numerous policies affecting survivors of sexual and domestic violence.

Many of us will also have the chance to vote for local school board representatives, members of city councils or boards of supervisors, commonwealth’s attorneys, sheriffs, and other local elected officials who will make policies that shape our day-to-day lives.

Wouldn’t it be great if these elected officials shared in our dream of a Virginia free of violence in which everyone not only survives, but thrives?

Let’s expand the frame of the possible and invest in #radicallyhopeful futures. We can work towards a vision of a Virginia where the seats of the Virginia General Assembly are filled with individuals who understand what it takes and are deeply committed to ending violence together.

We can have a future in which the full humanity and dignity of all people are recognized and embraced; where communities thrive and are sustained by human connection; in which people who are most affected by policies and decisions are at the center of the decision-making and have ample influence and representation to make change happen; and where relationships, families and communities are healthy, equitable, nourishing, and joyful.

So, how do we make this happen? It begins with each of us using our voice.

Our voice as individuals: Our vote, our voice.

Voting is one way to use your individual voice. By participating in elections, you’re choosing people to represent you and your values and voicing your opinion on ballot referenda.  Your vote is your way to tell people who currently hold office, “good job, keep it up!” or “you don’t represent me, I choose someone else.” Of course, not every candidate running for office will share your views on every issue. You’ll have to decide whose vision of the future is most aligned with yours and choose based on what matters most to you.

Not sure if you’re registered to vote in Virginia? Check here. If you’re eligible to vote and are not yet registered, be sure to register by Tuesday, October 15 so you can vote in November’s election. If you’re already registered, be sure to check your voter registration and confirm its accuracy so you don’t have any problems at the polls on Nov. 5. For example, you may have moved since the last election and need to update your address and identify your new polling place.

Once you know you’re registered to vote, make a plan for Election Day (November 5).

The background is a watercolor image of a woman's face with her eyes closed. In the foreground is text that says, "imagine a radically hopeful future and vote to make it happen. Remember to vote the first Tuesday in November!" with stylized text "Building Thriving Communities: a project of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance."

You can also encourage others to vote by hanging one these posters and sharing this handout on why voting matters.

Our voice as advocates: civic engagement is systems-level advocacy

As advocates, we work to ensure survivors are knowledgeable about their options and empowered to make their own choices because they are the experts in their lives. Voting is an extension of this work. If we are to eliminate violence in the long-term and improve interventions for survivors in the short-term, we need to use our voice during elections.  In our unique role as advocates, we have the power to elect legislators who are willing to improve systems to benefit survivors of violence and even prevent violence from happening in the first place.

One powerful tool that can help advocates – and community members –understand how, or if, our elected officials will truly serve survivors is asking critical questions of candidates. Asking questions like “how would you improve survivor access to medical services in the aftermath of trauma?” not only serves to educate our communities and future policy makers on the issues facing survivors but it also serves to help us understand where candidates stand on these issues and how our day-to-day work might be impacted. Here are some questions you can ask candidates.

Looking to do more to build a #radicallyhopeful future? Check out the Building Thriving Communities Toolkit for more information on facilitating community conversations and for materials and strategies that you can use to engage your community and amplify survivor voices in our democratic process.


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.

Elizabeth Wong is the Coalition Development Director for the Action Alliance. She is committed to building relationships that advance social justice and equality.

Virginia Launches Statewide Sexual Assault Kit Tracking System

RICHMOND (October 4, 2019) –Attorney General Mark R. Herring and the Department of Forensic Science (DFS) are launching Virginia’s first-ever statewide PERK tracking system, a secure, comprehensive electronic tracking system that will allow survivors, DFS, law enforcement agencies, and hospitals to know the status and location of a PERK kit at any given moment. The new PERK tracking system was developed as part of Attorney General Herring’s ongoing project in conjunction with DFS, law enforcement agencies, survivors, and victim advocates to transform the way Virginia responds to sexual and domestic violence.

“In years past, survivors often had no idea whether their kit had actually been tested, and we found out it often hadn’t been, which is so disrespectful to a survivor and really undermined trust in the system. We’ve made so much progress over the last few years to empower survivors, improve communication and transparency, and implement trauma-informed, survivor-centered, practices, and this new system is going to be yet another big step forward,” said Attorney General Herring. “With this new system, survivors, as well as hospitals, labs, and law enforcement agencies, will know exactly what’s happening with a kit, where it is physically located, and where it is in the testing process at any given moment. I want to thank our great partners at DFS for all their hard work and dedication in bringing this project to life.”

“The Department of Forensic Science has always been a leader in utilizing technology to achieve its mission, and this new system is just the latest example,” said Brian J. Moran, Virginia Secretary of Homeland Security and Public Safety. “The PERK tracking system shows our Commonwealth’s commitment to justice for survivors by providing accountability and ensuring PERKs are submitted for analysis in a timely manner. Governor Northam was proud to support this initiative by signing the legislation mandating use of the system beginning July 1, 2020.”

“DFS is proud to play an important role in supporting the criminal justice system by providing standardized PERKs for the collection of sexual assault evidence and providing timely and accurate testing results,” said Linda C. Jackson, Director of the Virginia Department of Forensic Science. “We are excited about launching the PERK tracking system, which provides useful information to all of our users, including law enforcement agencies, hospitals, and survivors.”

“Virginia’s new sexual assault kit tracking system will prove to be an important tool for survivors by promoting greater transparency and control throughout a difficult process,” said Jonathan Yglesias, Policy Director of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. “This is a crucial step in the direction of establishing systems-based responses that are trauma-informed and healing-centered in their approaches to serving sexual assault survivor.”

With the new tracking system, PERKs will be tracked at each step in the process, including their distribution as uncollected kits to collection sites (e.g., hospitals) through collection, transfer to law enforcement, submission to the laboratory for analysis, and return to the law enforcement agency for storage. All agencies handling kits will be required to update the status of each kit, and survivors may use the system to check the status of the analysis of their kits at any time.

The system will notify law enforcement users when collected kits have not been timely submitted for analysis, providing an important measure of accountability, and will provide law enforcement agencies and hospitals with a useful tool to manage their kits and inventories.

The system also includes important protections to ensure survivors’ privacy. No personal information will be stored in the system, access will be restricted to only the information a particular user might need, and kits will be monitored solely by their tracking number.

The PERK tracking system has been in an ongoing soft launch since June and will be mandatory starting July 1, 2020. Currently five organizations/agencies are using the system and DFS will conduct trainings with the remaining entities before use of the system is mandatory. The system will ultimately cost about $100,000, all of which is covered by a $2 million Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) grant secured in 2017 by Attorney General Herring and DFS.

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Domestic Violence Awareness Month (#DVAM) Across Virginia

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month (#DVAM). Though not officially observed until 1989, Domestic Violence Awareness Month has been observed since 1987, when it evolved from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s first Day of Unity. Because of DVAM, sexual and domestic violence agencies spend every October not only mourning those we have lost and celebrating survivors of domestic violence, but also re-rooting in community and the values that we believe will ultimately end violence. DVAM is a time when anti-violence agencies dig deep and reach far, often planning their largest annual events and attempting to reach the broadest possible range of people with their work.

dvam map

This map shows various localities in Virginia offering Domestic Violence Awareness Month events and activities. To see the full clickable map, go here.

More than ever before, there is a collective feeling in the movement that we need “all hands on deck” to make sustainable, revolutionary change. In collaboration with our member agencies, we’ve created this clickable map resource highlighting DVAM events across the state in the month of October. Our hope is that this resource will help the general public plug into anti-violence work in their communities, garner support for sexual and domestic violence agencies’ fundraising and engagement efforts, and help agencies connect across regions.

We are energized by the scope of DVAM events in Virginia this month, which range from bike rides in nature centers, to art exhibits, to political actions on courthouse steps. The array of events is as multifaceted and diverse as our movement, and as Virginia itself.


Emily Robinson is the Development and Engagement Coordinator at the Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance where she works with the Development and Outreach Team to support members and engage the broader community in the work of ending sexual and domestic violence in Virginia.