Centering Survivors in Virginia’s Special General Assembly Session

This week, legislators reconvene in Richmond for a special session to address Virginia’s biennial budget, which has been severely impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and to consider policy measures in response to the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent global uprising in defense of Black lives. Many of these measures are being introduced to advance equity, reform policing, and to begin the process of undoing systemic harms related to criminal justice and policing – which have historically and disproportionately impacted Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) and low-income Virginians. 

The movement to end sexual and domestic violence has long worked with the criminal justice system, including police, as one option to respond to violence. Many officers have a history of collaboration with victim advocates in building trauma-informed communities that provide safety and accountability. We acknowledge and value those individual officers who have made significant contributions to bring about change. However, the history and culture of policing in the United States is one that is steeped in self-protection, toxic masculinity, violence, racism, and domination. This has led to institutional responses to violence that are ineffective and unsafe for many victims of sexual and domestic violence and particularly for victims who identify as BIPOC[1]. Our movement’s reliance on police and criminal response interventions show no indication of reducing rates of violence nor do they provide justice for a majority of victims who choose to report[2]. This must change.

As the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance considers proposed legislation, we center the voices and experiences of survivors and rely on our values to guide us. We believe that all people have the right to a life free from sexual and domestic violence and oppression. We believe that violence will not be solved by violence. We believe that sexual and domestic violence are complex problems requiring equally complex and varied solutions.

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This moment offers both a sense of urgency and possibility– a tipping point for change. We are asking Virginia legislators to affirm the following values and support legislation which speaks to those values.

  • Everyone deserves safety and healing.
    • Make meaningful investments in community stability, wellness, and wholeness including healthcare infrastructure, teachers, counselors, and education, as well as affordable and safe housing access for all;
    • Promote widespread adoption of specialized risk assessment tools, like ODARA, which use data to make evidenced-based determinations about bail and bond, pretrial services, and assess risk for future violence, ultimately reducing the risk of intimate partner homicide;
  • Criminalizing survival strategies prolongs trauma. Punishing survivors for engaging in survival strategies, like low-level drug use, panhandling, sex work, and self-defense perpetuates trauma and increases the likelihood that survivors of sexual and domestic violence will become incarcerated.
  • Preventing violence before it starts is not only possible, but it is critical to building healthy futures.
    • Support robust collection and analysis of data on high risk sexual and domestic violence perpetration and intimate partner homicide at the state level can help Virginia better identify which community strategies actually help to prevent severe violence and homicides;
    • Invest in sexual and domestic violence prevention through the newly established state fund will support expansion of violence prevention strategies across Virginia;

Want to make sure your voice is heard? Take action NOW to send a message to your legislators and urge them to center survivors during the special session as they address the COVID pandemic and criminal justice reforms. Or, you can also pick up the phone and give them a quick ring – it takes about two minutes and gets logged as a constituent request/community contact by legislative staff. Your voice really makes a difference – at this moment in time, we have the responsibility and the power to act in service of safety, justice, and healing for all Virginians!


[1] Survived & Punished data: https://survivedandpunished.org/quick-statistics/

[2] U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics: https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/rsarp00.pdf and RAINN Criminal Justice System data: https://www.rainn.org/statistics/criminal-justice-system