The 2020 General Assembly Session is officially behind us. However, the work of Virginia’s legislators and policy leaders is far from over. As we make our way through a deadly global pandemic and provide ongoing support to the global uprising in defense of Black lives, important decisions about state funding, voter access, healthcare, criminal justice reform, and public safety are still being made every day.
Our work to support survivors and build thriving communities has become infinitely more complex. Communities are experiencing limited access to resources. Survivors are having to weigh the risks of exposure to Coronavirus versus sheltering in place with their abusers. As a movement, we are grappling with questions like “how can we address harm, accountability, and safety for all?” In all of this, the Action Alliance is working hard to amplify survivors’ voices and advocates’ needs in the policy world and beyond. New resources made available at this time include the #StaySafeVA public awareness campaign, the Rise Fund, and our COVID-19 Response Resources. We encourage you to (as much as possible) stay plugged in, stay hopeful, and know that we are here to help!
To this end, the NEW 2020 VIRGINIA LAW resource provides a summary of the legislative accomplishments that occurred between January and April and those policy decisions that we expect sexual and domestic violence advocates to be able to count on in a post-pandemic Commonwealth. (A summary document is also available here.) Our field saw several big wins in 2020, including:
the initiation of a new sexual and domestic violence state prevention fund,
firearms certification for respondents of permanent protective orders,
survivor-led housing protections for sexual and domestic violence survivors,
policies to increase access to forensic nursing throughout Virginia, and more.
We entered 2020 with a new Democratic majority in the House, Senate, and in the Governor’s mansion – this was the first time in more than 20 years that Democrats had a chance to fully pursue their agenda. As such, there was no shortage of bills filed or hot topics to debate. Legislators introduced 3,001 bills this session with 45% of these passing both chambers and ultimately being signed into law.
Though our work in sexual and domestic violence advocacy and prevention is far from over, we want to pause and celebrate our collective accomplishments and thank you for your steadfast advocacy at the General Assembly (and beyond!).
Without your support, none of our work advocating for survivors in the legislature would be possible. Thank you! Seriously.
Action Alliance members and supporters being recognized by the Virginia Senate during Legislative Advocacy Day 2020.
Action Alliance members and supporters being recognized by the Virginia House of Delegates during Legislative Advocacy Day 2020.
For more information on bills of interest, the Action Alliance’s 2020 policy priorities, and news on the upcoming special session in August 2020, see the Public Policy section of the Action Alliance’s website. Additionally, if you would like to access our recorded webinar debriefing the 2020 General Assembly Session featuring guests Adele McClure, Director of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and Dr. Vanessa Walker Harris, Deputy Director of Virginia Health & Human Services, click here. As always, if you have any feedback, questions, or would like to get involved, feel free to drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
With the recent assassinations of Black people at the hands of the police and racists in this country, there have been calls for solidarity and the need for allyship. The assumption is that we are only asking for well-meaning White folks to do more, learn more, and be more active in fighting white supremacy and racism. While this is true, we need more than fight. We need change. We need to be able to be seen as whole free people feeling real emotions inside of a country that was created by white supremacy with the intention of having control over our bodies in life and death. We need to be who we are unapologetically. We need to be represented in spaces that have historically been occupied and controlled by White people and not have our experiences ignored or silenced.
We need change. We need to be able to be seen as whole free people feeling real emotions inside of a country that was created by white supremacy with the intention of having control over our bodies in life and death.
Black people and people of color have not been extended the privileges to enter those spaces and have people acknowledge what is happening to them in this county. We often have to fix our faces, tones of voice, and emotions to get the job done and proceed as if all is well because when we do speak up and out they are seen as trouble makers and then again we are silenced. We want to be able to be angry about how we are consistently impacted by all the racism and frequent microaggressions in our workspaces and the communities we live in. We want to openly mourn seeing the people that look like us killed either by the disproportionate negative impacts that this society has created or by the police that are supposed to “protect” us. We want to be seen in movements that have historically and presently continue to erase our presence and foundational contributions.
In this field of gender violence we collectively have fought for people to have autonomy over their bodies and the end to interpersonal violence. Yet, when it comes to the disproportionate impact on Black and Brown bodies, we have become invisible. We have just now in recent years inside of the mainstream spaces of this movement been bold enough to point out these impacts in words but in actions little has changed. We talk about being here for everyone, but the painful truth is that we are not. This movement has been hypocritical in its actions.
We have just now in recent years inside of the mainstream spaces of this movement been bold enough to point out these impacts in words but in actions little has changed.
The call for allyship is nice and needed but what we really need is for your actions to speak louder than the memes, retweets, shares, and repeating the words of Black people and people of color. We need change in our environments that push us out when we speak up. We need real dialogue that includes us in the “hard” conversations about race. We need you to do more than read books about privilege. We need you to look inside and think about the many ways that your non-action in speaking up about state violence and committing forms of it in the spaces that you frequent are also violent. Yes, we need you to learn AND we need you to change.
To the survivors and advocates that are Black and people of color, we see you, you are whole and are loved.
Cortney Calixte is the Movement and Capacity-Building Director at the Action Alliance. Her main focuses are underserved populations, social justice movements and their intersections with advocacy.
Despite her claims otherwise, Amy Cooper knew exactly what she was doing when she called 911 to make a false report that Chris Cooper was threatening her in New York City’s Central Park.
“I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life,” she sneers, pulling down her face mask and dragging her dog by its collar. “Please call the cops,” Chris Cooper calmly responds.
Whether Amy Cooper acknowledges it or not, growing up as a white person in the U.S., she has been saturated with toxic messages of the supremacy of whiteness since birth. We all have. She leveraged her whiteness to weaponize the police against Chris Cooper, an avid birdwatcher, a Black man who had asked her to leash her dog in an area where it was illegal to have one’s dog off-leash. She knew—she intuited—that a white woman calling the cops to lie about a Black man threatening her would bring a swift, unquestioning response in her favor. She knew that by saying, “I’m going to tell them there’s an African-American man threatening my life,” she was in fact making a threat against Chris Cooper’s life.
It’s easy for us as white folks to vilify the Amy Coopers of the world—entitled white women who police and report the activities of innocent Black people—thereby endangering their lives. Going all the way back to the murder of Emmett Till and way before that, false reports by white women have resulted in Black people being murdered.
And yes, Amy Cooper’s actions are certainly worthy of critique. But by saying to ourselves and others, “I’m not like her,” we miss the chance to examine our own internalized white supremacy and how it operates in our minds, families, offices, and communities (see illustration below).
The white supremacy iceberg illustrates the connections between overt (socially unacceptable) and covert (often socially acceptable) forms of white supremacy.
If we want to be allies to our Black colleagues, family, friends, neighbors, and clients, it’s critical for us white people to understand that—like all oppressions—racist behaviors exist on a continuum. The actions of Amy Cooper and Derek Chauvin exist on that continuum; there is a direct line from Amy Cooper’s weaponizing race for summoning the police to police officer Derek Chauvin using lethal force against a man who was posing no physical threat.
Similarly, there is a direct line from microaggressions we may inflict on Black people to Amy Cooper knowing that she could lie to police with impunity and quite possibly endanger an innocent man’s life in the process. All of these behaviors support the omnipresent and toxic falsehood in our culture that Black people are “less than”.
Racist actions on this continuum have different impacts, yet all are harmful to the psyche and bodies of our fellow human beings. From microaggressions to murder, racist actions prop up the structural inequalities (the written and unwritten policies and practices) that ensure white people—on the whole—have access to more chances, more resources, greater safety, and more justice than anyone who is not considered “white.”
There is no dearth of information on how white people can help make change happen. Here is a list of 75 actions that white people can do to help support racial justice. Here is a list of anti-racism resources, including podcasts, reading and video lists, and other resources for white folks to learn more about racist oppression and the beauty of Blackness without putting the burden of our education on Black people (after all, it is not the responsibility of Black people to educate us on racism).
Do what you can where you are. Talk to your kids and family about white supremacy and racism, how to spot them, and how to talk with their own friends about them. Contribute time and money to organizations led by people of color that work toward liberation, like Southerners on New Ground and Black Lives Matter. Give to the Legal Aid Justice Center and the New Virginia Majority, two organizations in Virginia that fight for racial justice and democracy.
If you are an advocate for survivors of violence, commit to your own education about how racism impacts survivors of color*, learn how to engage in systems advocacy in your own community by following the lead of organizations that have people of color at the helm*, and talk with schools in your community about simple steps you can take to dismantle the trauma-to-prison pipeline*.
Working for gender justice and a world without gendered violence means that we must simultaneously work toward racial justice and a world without racist violence. If you’d like to learn more about how the work to create gender justice intersects with work to end other oppressions, download these Action Alliance infographics here: “How Justice Movements Connect” and “How Oppressive Systems Connect”.
If you’d like to learn more about how the Action Alliance is currently working to build gender justice, racial justice, economic justice, and reproductive justice, download our Vision, Values, and Strategies document.
If there is one thing that the Coronavirus global pandemic has taught is, it is that we are all connected. As white people, it is up to us to honor that sacred responsibility and do our part to bring about change so that all human beings may thrive. White folks living today may not be responsible for building this country’s labyrinth of white supremacy but our silence in the face of white supremacist actions today and moving forward makes us complicit. We are responsible for actively fighting for white supremacy’s destruction. As the ancestors of future generations, we have the resourcefulness and tenacity to build a brighter future for ourselves and for our future descendants.
Kate McCord (she/they) is an Associate Director for the Action Alliance and has been active in integrating a racial justice lens into Virginia’s movement for gender justice for over 20 years.
*The Action Alliance has training curricula on these topics and/or can create “trainings-on-request” for these topics.
White supremacy iceberg image attributions, as listed in its source post: Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence (2005). Adapted: Ellen Tuzzolo (2016); Mary Julia Cooksey Cordero (@jewelspewels) (2019); The Conscious Kid (2020).
This May as part of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the Action Alliance highlights the work of two member agencies offering culturally specific support to Asian and Asian American survivors. While survivors in Asian communities face some of the same struggles as non-Asian survivors, they also have unique considerations related to cultural norms, language access, and immigration status.
Learn more about Boat People SOS and the Korean Community Services Center of Greater Washington below.
Boat People SOS, Inc. (BPSOS) is a national community-based organization with 40 years of experience servicing the Vietnamese American community. Founded in 1980, BPSOS’ mission is to “empower, organize and equip Vietnamese refugees and immigrants in their pursuit of liberty and dignity.” Our population has been predominantly Vietnamese refugees and immigrants, most of whom have a long history of trauma, and often are survivors of domestic violence. During the past 40 years, our national network of branch offices has directly assisted over 120,000 Vietnamese residing in Vietnam, on the high seas as boat people, in refugee camps, and after resettlement to the United States. Our long and successful track record of service to this vulnerable population has elevated our trustworthiness and credibility as an organization with cultural competence and subject matter expertise to serve this population. BPSOS is the only Vietnamese American national organization with a physical presence in six locations in the U.S. and one office in Thailand with a total of 65 staff members and a network totaling hundreds of dedicated volunteers.
2. How do you see the needs of Asian survivors differing from other survivors?
Domestic violence has long been prevalent in the Vietnamese community. The high incidence of domestic violence is compounded by significant barriers faced by survivors when accessing mainstream domestic violence services, including limited English competency, cultural tolerance for abusive behavior and general fear of seeking assistance outside the family network. In the Vietnamese culture, despite the fact that they are the survivors, women are often blamed by their own families for the abuse they suffer. Among many traditional families, abuse by their husbands is viewed as an indication of the woman’s bad character, which brings shame to the entire family. This traditional belief often translates to cultural tolerance for violence against women. For many of the survivors we serve, a lack of understanding of U.S. laws is common and exacerbates the barriers detailed above. For example, survivors who are recent immigrants are generally unaware of their rights under the U.S. legal system, such as their right to self-petition for legal permanent residence under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Moreover, they often fear detention and deportation, especially those who derive their immigration status from their abusive spouses, and this fear often deters these women from seeking assistance and legal recourse. Most survivors don’t have any family members or relatives in the US to help and explain to them what they need to do if they’re physically, sexually, or financially abused. Vietnamese survivors really need case management to explain safety, shelters, protection orders, or separation and divorce. Without devoted and fast supports, survivors may die, commit suicide or get traumatized.
3. What, if anything, do you want the broader anti-violence community to know or understand about the work you do?
We would want the broader anti-violence community to know and understand that our ultimate goal is to end the cycle of domestic violence among Vietnamese families and to empower and equip survivors to lead self-sufficient, stable, and independent lives for themselves and for their dependents. Our services are very culturally-specific, trauma-informed, free of charge, and strictly voluntary, while protecting confidentiality of client information. Our Communities Against Domestic Violence (CADV) project, started 22 years ago, focused originally on raising community awareness about domestic violence. As a growing number of survivors requested direct services, we gradually built capacity, through long-term case management, to meet the diverse needs of victims, including legal assistance, transitional housing, job placement, financial education, counseling, and social services. With the support of BPSOS’ leadership, in 2012 the CADV management team decided to expand this program to all 6 BPSOS branches nationwide. To date, the CADV Program has assisted over 1,200 Vietnamese and other Asian American survivors of domestic violence across the nation in accessing needed legal and social service assistance. Additionally, over 100 domestic service and legal assistance providers have received our cultural competency trainings.
4. How has the COVID pandemic impacted the people you serve?
Since March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has extremely impacted the people we serve. Our partner, Just Neighbors, could not meet with new DV victims to do intake, and therefore, they could not help our clients to apply for two-year or ten-year green cards. Some ten-year green card applications have been pending and delayed for submission to USCIS because of this pandemic. Many victims lost their jobs, their health insurance, and hopes to solve their family issues. They have been so depressed, stressed, and worried about their green cards that will expire soon in 2020. One of our female survivor’s son of 20 years old could not fly to the US from Vietnam in March 2020 to reunite with his mother who left Vietnam seven years ago to the US (to live with her abusive husband). We have tried our best to assist people as much as we can during this difficult time.
5. What statewide policy change(s) would be most beneficial to helping survivors you support?
Survivors always need financial assistance to pay for rent if they need to move out to live separately from their spouses. If the state can allocate some funds to assist survivors with this need, that would be great. We usually just provide any assistance they need (interpretation, translation, referrals, legal, shelter, safety plan, etc.) but we are unable to provide financial assistance which is very important for survivors to quickly move away from the abusers who always curse victims/survivors with threatening words and violent actions.
6. What can people do to support your organization and work?
People can support our organization and work with different ways: (1) Donate or invest in our program; (2) Volunteer to assist our community; (3) Stay informed and spread the word to others. Together, we can advocate successfully for victims and survivors in any fields so that they can rebuild their life with dignity and liberty.
KCSC is a one-stop shop non-profit providing social services for the Asian American community. It brings a multidisciplinary approach to Asian Americans and new immigrants through social service, education, advocacy, and development of resources. The Victim Services program aims to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate services in coordination with prevention educators, transitional housing assistants, advocates, and community engagement staff.
2. How do you see the needs of Asian survivors differing from other survivors?
While domestic violence survivors’ basic needs are similar, what’s particular to Asian survivors are the culturally deep-rooted idea of family unity and the responsibility of holding the family or providing the children an intact family. Asian survivors are deeply related to family-centered and patriarchal cultural values. This sometimes makes it hard to decide the options that they need. In addition, they don’t know where and how they can get practical help or useful resources because of barriers, such as instability of their legal status, lack of command of English, and lack of connections. Sometimes survivors feel more isolated and depressed without support systems where they can reach out for help when they don’t feel safe at home.
Tabling to Raise Awareness of KCSC’s Services
3. What, if anything, do you want the broader anti-violence community to know or understand about the work you do?
KCSC not only provides case management to clients, but also reaches out to other community members to provide DV seminars regarding Asian culture and how to help immigrants survivors from different cultures. We are willing to get connected with other relevant agencies providing similar services and have cross-training, if possible.
4. How has the COVID pandemic impacted the people you serve?
The pandemic has impacted clients in many different ways. Many clients’ employment stability was negatively impacted, which spiked the needs for social services and financial assistance. In order to prevent sexual violence and dating violence, close cooperation and engagements with the local community are very important. This type of the education session is more efficient in the setting of in-person gatherings. However, due to COVID-19, it is challenging to do outreach.
5. What statewide policy change(s) would be most beneficial to helping survivors you support?
Language assistance in the legal system: Clients need equal access to legal services and remedies. For example, adequate communication in any aspect of accessing the legal system from finding an attorney, understanding options, filling out forms, and simply navigating the courthouse.
Immigration status: A good number of my clients depend on their abusive spouses for their immigration status, thus VAWA Self-petition is a pivotal grounding for those clients. Continue to advocate to expedite the VAWA application process.
Housing: Protecting renters’ and homeowners’ rights, especially during COVID-19 would be beneficial to helping survivors have a continuously secure and safe place (See National Housing Law Project).
6. What can people do to support your organization and work?
(1) Have the curiosity and be open-minded to the domestic violence issues in the community. Raise awareness and have open conversations about domestic violence in Asian communities. (2) Share information about KCSC through your social media and other connections. (3) Volunteer your time with KCSC. (4) Donate to KCSC.
For some strange reason I thought in a place where advocates against violence were virtually meeting, there would be a pause and acknowledgment of what is happening in our country to Black people.
I thought that they would take a moment to say not only was the release of Title IX Final Rule document hurtful because of the document itself and the poor choice and timing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, also known as the novel coronavirus, but also because it was released during the week where many Americans watched an innocent young Black man senselessly gunned down by two white men while he was jogging in his own neighborhood.
I thought that there would be a mention of his name, Ahmaud Arbery, a mention of the correlation between sexual violence and racial violence because violence is a form of oppression. While both issues are valid on their own, there are intersections. When will the sexual and domestic violence movement make the shift to doing this work of advocacy, prevention, and response with a racial justice lens?
Fatima M. Smith
I am a survivor who is also a mother, unapologetically Black, and identifies as a woman whose passion and work are dedicated to ending sexual and intimate partner violence. Yet I continue to feel like my identities are not valued.
The conversation during the town hall was a familiar one that is often had in sexual and intimate partner violence survivor advocacy circles, where the focus is on women.
I found myself struggling to stay focused because I kept thinking about what about those students who identify within the LGBTQ+ community, what about those Black and Brown students, what are the implications for them?
As I told my brain to focus on the meeting speakers, the answers to the aforementioned questions from the speakers was as if all survivors were made equal, but really we’re not.
We’re more than just the acts that are committed against us. We have beautiful pieces of us that make up the whole and I can’t get on board with entities that are going to continue to work in the silo of “only women are sexually assaulted” which is code for “only white middle class college women are sexually assaulted”.
As I tried to move past these feelings, I couldn’t help but think about those trans students who will be misgendered intentionally or unintentionally by respondents’ advisors during cross-examination, or the pressure to have to come out to avoid being misgendered by a respondent’s advisor.
I’m just trying to figure out when do we have discussions about dynamics of power when it comes to sexual assault when the assault occurs between different races and ethnicities? What does it look like to be a Black student who is assaulted by a white student and then to have to not only face one’s perpetrator but also potentially have to be interrogated (or as they like to say “cross-examined”) by a white individual?
The consideration of racial fatigue and that question of trauma-informed care isn’t being discussed on a deeper level because we’re just talking about survivors as a homogeneous entity. But it’s not. We are not.
Fatima M. Smith testifies before the Virginia General Assembly during the 2020 session.
Fatima M. Smith is a survivor, relentless advocate and founder of FMS Speaks, LLC. She established FMS Speaks as a way to share her passion for anti-violence work, racial justice, and engage folks in dialogue thatignites action for progress. Fatima serves as a member of the Action Alliance’s Governing Body.
Imagine being trapped in a house with an abusive partner. You’re unable to leave for a variety of reasons. Now, imagine you are in that same situation but there is a stay-at-home order due to a pandemic that is overwhelming emergency rooms and closing social services. Your resources have been severely limited.
Domestic violence, sexual assault, and reproductive coercion are forms of intimate partner violence that have always been intricately linked with reproductive healthcare, rights, and justice. Domestic and intimate partner violence is also more prevalent among already vulnerable populations, including women of color, poor communities, people with disabilities, and those already living on the margins. Women who experience intimate partner violence are also most likely to experience unintended pregnancies.
As we know, intimate partner violence doesn’t just have the potential to create coercive situations with regard to one’s reproductive freedom, it also has a strong and direct correlation with increased risks for negative pregnancy and maternal health outcomes. A 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found that an estimated two million women in the U.S. have become pregnant as a result of violence by intimate partners and about 5% of women surveyed reported that an intimate partner had tried to impregnate them against their will during their lifetime. Reproductive coercion can be a partner refusing to wear a condom or taking it off during sex without informing their partner. It can also be forcing a woman to carry a pregnancy to term against her will or forcing her to have an abortion against her will.
COVID-19 has already caused a drastic increase in isolation, domestic stress, and other social and mental health issues for so many individuals. It is imperative that everyone, especially victims and survivors of domestic and sexual abuse, have access to nonjudgmental, comprehensive reproductive health care at this moment.
Abortion-care providers serve an important role in caring for those in dangerous circumstances. These highly qualified professionals are trained to spot signs of abuse, human trafficking, and coercion. In fact, providers like Planned Parenthood have developed protocols and guidelines to assess and assist patients facing difficult circumstances.
For example, at a local Planned Parenthood in Virginia, when a woman takes a urine test there is a sign in the bathroom telling her that she can indicate on the cup that she does not want her partner to go back to the exam room. Clinic staff will then ensure that she can be examined alone. Planned Parenthood maintains an up-to-date list of resources for victims and tries to ensure that people have a safe space to seek help. Notably, women who experience partner violence, more often than ones who do not, seek out effective birth control methods like long-acting reversible contraceptives after having an abortion. Having control over whether and when she becomes pregnant can mean the difference between facing physical abuse or not, between being killed or not.
Much of the time, victims of intimate partner violence seek out help when their partners are not home or when they are alone. That has become even more difficult with stay-at-home orders, as the resources and outs people usually use in their safety planning become harder to access. Some women may be able to get help from their women’s healthcare providers, such as Planned Parenthood, who are expanding the provision of services to include primary health care during this time of need.
The goal of public health officials during this pandemic with respect to domestic violence and intimate partner violence should be the same as it always was: to provide victims and survivors with as many avenues to access resources as possible and to help them regain control of their lives, which includes safeguarding access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare and abortion care. In some places, anti-abortion politicians are using the COVID virus as a smokescreen to eliminate abortion access without waiting for the Supreme Court to opine on the issue. Cutting off access to abortion care can have an especially devastating impact on patients facing domestic violence at home.
Resources for advocates, survivors, practitioners, and community-members:
NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia’s reproductive resources guide: provides info on accessing reproductive healthcare services and resources in Virginia during COVID-19.
The Action Alliance’s Reproductive & Sexual Coercion Toolkit for advocates: The goal of this toolkit is to help begin conversations and implement policies within sexual and domestic violence agencies that seek to respond to survivor experiences of reproductive and sexual coercion and to help advocates utilize reproductive justice framework in their work with survivors.
The Action Alliance’s #StaySafeVA COVID-19 Media Campaign: Many survivors and community members are unaware that sexual and domestic violence programs are still open and available to provide support during the Coronavirus pandemic. This statewide awareness campaign let survivors know that help is still available. The Virginia Statewide Hotline is still here and ready to help, and so are sexual and domestic violence programs all over the state.
Galina Varchena is the Policy Director for NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia
Michelle Woods is the Communications Director for NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia
Hailey is the Communications Fellow for NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia.
You may have seen some local articles and stories about increases in sexual and domestic violence calls in Virginia during this pandemic (and here’s one at the national level). We expect that trend to continue as we remain under a “stay-at-home” order in Virginia, and stressors pile up on individuals in the form of job and wage loss, feelings of uncertainty and grief, strains on interpersonal relationships with people/families in close quarters, and more. Many survivors are unaware that, in the wake of COVID-19, sexual and domestic violence programs are still open and available to provide support, or that they can still go to the hospital for medical care after an assault.
The Action Alliance is Virginia’s leading voice on sexual and domestic violence, and we’re launching a statewide awareness campaign to let survivors know that help is still available. The Virginia Statewide Hotline is still here and ready to help, and so are sexual and domestic violence programs all over the state.
Here are three ways you can help us during this time:
1. You can print and post flyers in your community and/or share resources with essential workers on your routine grocery trip, when you get gas, etc. Here’s how:
A Poster for Grocery Stores and Schools: This resource can be shared at grocery stores, schools, ABC stores, gas stations, restaurants, and any other public place you may visit during this time. This flyer is targeted to survivors and lets them know that support is available to them by calling the Virginia Statewide Hotline.
A Tip Sheet for Cashiers: Please share this resource with cashiers at grocery stores, schools, ABC stores, gas stations, restaurants, and any other public place you may visit during this time. This sheet helps essential workers identify ways to connect with customers who may be experiencing or causing harm, and provides them with the resources they need to help.
2. You can post on social media about the campaign. Please follow us on Facebook, Instagram (@VSDVAA), and Twitter (@VActionAlliance), and share our posts related to the campaign! When you post on social media, please join us in using the following hashtags:
3. You can donate tothe RISE Fund. This fund was established to enable help local sexual and domestic violence agencies to be more prepared to handle emergent situations such as natural and man-made disasters. To contribute, you can use our online donation page or mail a check to: Action Alliance, 1118 W. Main St. Richmond, VA 23220. For more information about the Rise Fund, see this page.
Thank you for supporting survivors and advocates during this time of heightened risk and uncertainty. We appreciate you!
Richmond, VA – April 2, 2020 – The Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance joins with the Legal Aid Justice Center’s call to public officials to take aggressive action to protect low-income Virginia residents and communities of color and reiterates the critical importance of ensuring the safety of ALL survivors of sexual assault and intimate partner violence during this public health crisis. As a result of physical distancing measures designed to support public health, perpetrators have increased access at home to those they harm. Accordingly, we are seeing an increase in the need for services to survivors. It is imperative that public officials take urgent action to protect the well-being and safety of survivors.
Even in times of crisis, the justice system must work to ensure the safety of victims of sexual assault and intimate partner violence. Specifically, the Action Alliance makes the following recommendations:
As courts consider suspending civil dockets, exceptions for “emergency filings” must include all services needed for victims of sexual assault and intimate partner violence to maintain health, safety, and well-being. This includes civil protective order filings, emergency custody and child support filings, and certain pendente lite filings.
As Judges and Magistrates consider releasing people who appear before them to prioritize their health and safety, victim safety must remain a primary consideration. High risk perpetrators of sexual assault or intimate partner violence should not be released without consideration to and planning for the safety and well-being of victims of violence when such release could lead to continued violence or even loss of life and jeopardize community safety. This is particularly important given the mobility limitations victims now face which create additional barriers to escaping abusive situations.
Although missed appearances in court should not result in bench warrants, default judgments are still appropriate in emergency circumstances where a party fails to appear or file a responsive pleading. This includes civil protective orders and emergency custody and support orders where relief is needed to ensure the safety and well-being of victims and their families.
Although Judges should authorize suspending the collection of fines, fees, and costs related to court cases, Judges should not suspend orders for family support and financial restitution. Victims and their children are particularly vulnerable to eviction, homelessness, and economic insecurity during this time. Orders for child or spousal support should continue to be enforced and should not be suspended without an alternative plan in place to ensure the safety and well-being of victims and their families.
As law enforcement officers and deputies consider using summons as a last resort, arrests should continue to be made in intimate partner violence and sexual violence situations where necessary to ensure the safety of victims and their families. Officers should not issue mutual arrests or request mutual warrants, particularly during this time where victims are left with few options and may be required to defend themselves. Officers should continue to consider the factors found in Virginia Code § 19.2-81.3 when determining which person is the predominant physical aggressor when intimate partner violence has occurred
Law enforcement officers and Commonwealth Attorneys should consistently enforce protective orders during this time, and, in particular, protective order violations. Priority should be given to preventing firearm access for respondents in protective orders, and, where possible, safe collection of firearms when serving protective orders. The presence of firearms significantly escalates lethality in sexual assault and intimate partner violence, and this is even more true during this time of national crisis.
Like many of our partners, we share concerns about the safety, health, and well-being of Virginians who are incarcerated. We agree that the Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) and local jails should examine all release processes and mechanisms under their control and consider employing them liberally and expeditiously except in cases where an incarcerated individual poses an ongoing risk to the health and safety of others. We must insist that officials prioritize safety for survivors of sexual and domestic violence from all communities during this time of limited mobility and access to services. They can do so by applying evidence-based assessments for risk of future violence and by taking steps to invest in community corrections and alternatives to incarceration which seek to increase health and safety while also managing high risk behaviors and risk of recidivism. At this time when domestic and sexual violence is escalating and access to community support for survivors and families is becoming more limited, it would be reckless to ignore the fact that this violence often repeats and intensifies during times of natural disaster, pandemics, and other crises.
We continue to stand ready to ensure the safety of survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence while also supporting justice system reforms intended to reverse historical harms committed against low income communities and communities of color As we move forward, the Action Alliance believes in balancing victim safety and offender accountability with our vision for racial and restorative justice.
For survivors and concerned family and friends:
Please know that advocates at the Action Alliance and at local sexual and domestic violence agencies throughout the state are here for you. While Action Alliance staff have moved to working remotely, the Statewide Hotline is operational and continues to be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. If you need support or help with planning for safety:
About the Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance
The Action Alliance has been Virginia’s leading voice on sexual and domestic violence for nearly 40 years and enhances response and prevention efforts through training, public policy advocacy, public awareness programs, and technical assistance to professionals.
Richmond, VA — March 25, 2020—As the public health crisis around COVID-19 quickly changes the way people are interacting with each other and the government calls for physical distancing to slow community spread, the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance (Action Alliance) is acutely aware that survivors of violence face unique challenges at this time.
“For survivors of recent or ongoing sexual and intimate partner violence, being home may not be the safest place, particularly as people are financially and emotionally stressed,” said Action Alliance Executive Director Kristi VanAudenhove. “Moreover, those who experience harm and those who cause harm, including violence, are physically cutoff from others who can provide emotional support that reduces abuse – such as addiction recovery groups, access to a gym, and friends.”
Additionally, physical distancing and the related economic and social impact have illustrated the gaps in our federal and state support systems — a lack of economic justice for low-wage workers and hourly workers, a lack of paid sick leave to care for one’s own health or that of a loved one, and gaps in affordable childcare, to name a few.
“With all of these stressors, we are going to see an increased need for services for survivors of sexual assault and intimate partner violence,” added VanAudenhove. “This is a trend seen in the aftermath of other natural disasters such as hurricanes, in which abusers have increased access to those they hurt. In fact, the number of calls to the Statewide Hotline have already increased by more than 30% these past couple of weeks.”
Advocates at the Action Alliance and at local agencies throughout the state are here for survivors. The Statewide Hotline is operational and continues to be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. If you are a survivor or a concerned family member or friend in need of support or help with planning for safety, please contact the Statewide Hotline:
Advocates are also available through community hotlines and they are providing innovative mobile advocacy services and virtual support groups. Domestic violence shelters are continuing to provide emergency shelter to survivors and are also helping survivors to find safe housing in their communities or to travel to be with family where they will receive care and support.
What can you do to help?Donate today!
Our local agencies need financial support. There are unexpected costs for preparing for and enduring this pandemic, as well as potential lost revenue due to canceled fundraisers.
Please donate to your local shelters and agencies who are on the front lines offering support to survivors. Here’s a map of agencies in Virginia that includes their websites, where you can donate directly.
Contribute to The RISE Fund, set up by the Action Alliance Governing Body specifically to support survivor advocacy agencies during times of crisis and disaster. The Rise Fund makes grants of up to $1,000 to member sexual and domestic violence agencies impacted by a crisis such as this pandemic. These funds are available to meet unexpected needs such as direct aid to survivors, or in this case, safety and technology costs that are not covered by grant funds.
Interested in reading more?
The Action Alliance has compiled a list of resources for our agencies, advocates, and the general public that deal with issues around responding to COVID-19 in our communities. We hope these not only provide needed information, but also help center disability justice, community care, and trauma-informed care in our response to this situation.
About the Action Alliance
The Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance is Virginia’s leading voice on sexual and intimate partner violence. A diverse group of individuals and organizations, the Action Alliance believes that ALL people have the right to a life free of sexual and domestic violence.
As a Black and gay male, I understand the urgency of addressing the HIV epidemic that affects me and others within our community. National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, February 7, is a time set aside for us within the Black community to increase HIV education, testing, community involvement, and treatment in an effort to end the HIV epidemic. It is also important to take time to acknowledge distinct barriers to prevention and care that impede efforts ending the HIV epidemic. One such barrier is the unique experience of LGBTQ people in regard to the intersection of HIV/AIDS and domestic abuse.
In his article, Just*in Time: HIV & LGBTQ Domestic Violence, Justin B. Terry-Smith voices the struggles of the intersection of HIV/AIDS and domestic abuse. He details a few tactics of abusers: using HIV guilt as a weapon, taking away or controlling access to HIV medication – this control over medication can be for PrEP, nPEP, or antiretroviral HIV medications – controlling access to money and other resources, using social media to manipulate and threaten, and creating or magnifying stress and trauma. All of these tactics can make a person’s HIV diagnosis more dangerous for their health. An abuser’s ability to victim-blame, isolate and control by using social media, and regulating HIV medication is amplified for LGBTQ Blacks and African Americans, who at the same time are experiencing racial disparities within the healthcare and domestic violence services systems. Additionally, resources for LGBTQ people are already limited, and an abuser isolating an LGBTQ partner can be especially detrimental for health outcomes.
According to the United States Census Bureau, we lack equity in economics, insurance coverage, and health.
Economics: In 2017, the Census Bureau reported the average Black median household income to be $40,165 in comparison to $65,845 for white households. Also in 2017, the Census Bureau reported that 22.9 percent of Blacks in comparison to 9.6 percent of whites were living at the poverty level. Further, in 2017, the unemployment rate for Blacks was found to be twice that of non-Hispanic whites, 9.5 percent and 4.2 percent, respectively.
Insurance Coverage: In 2017, the Census Bureau reported 55.5 percent of Blacks in comparison to 75.4 percent of whites used private health insurance. Also in 2017, 43.9 percent of Blacks in comparison to 33.7 percent of whites relied on Medicaid or public health insurance. Lastly, 9.9 percent of Blacks in comparison to 5.9 percent of whites were uninsured.
Health: According to Census Bureau projections, the 2015 life expectancies at birth for Blacks is 76.1 years, with 78.9 years for women, and 72.9 years for men. For whites the projected life expectancies is 79.8 years, with 82.0 years for women, and 77.5 years for men. The death rate for African Americans is generally higher than whites for the following: heart diseases, stroke, cancer, asthma, influenza and pneumonia, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and homicide.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline goes even further into the unique mental and physical tactics LGBTQ abusers use to gain power and control, detailing that LGBTQ tactics to gain control are all rooted in homophobia, biphobia, heterosexism, and transphobia. Threatening to “out” a survivor’s sexual orientation or gender identity, denying the survivor’s sexual orientation or gender identity, suggesting the abuse is “deserved” because of the survivor’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and explaining away abuse by upholding the abuse as masculine or some other desirable trait. These mental tactics all serve to isolate the survivor from the LGBTQ community. This is especially damaging for LGBTQ people since there are fewer specific resources for LGBTQ people. Similarly, these tactics can be combined with racism to compound the isolation and damage experienced by the person being abused.
“It was a friend. The first gay person I ever knew. I really was reaching out for the first time trying to find a mentor. He was older and I wanted to learn what it was like to be gay in my rural community … but then this [violence] happened.” — Gay queer male, 23, Richmond*
As Black and African American LGBTQ people, we are tasked with managing our health, regardless of HIV status, finding ways to navigate institutions that were not designed with us in mind, stigma that is associated with HIV/AIDS and domestic abuse, and various other societal pressures without much structural or institutional support.
“I didn’t think it was a big deal; it felt normal or not what I thought “domestic violence” was;” –Bisexual female, 20, Richmond*
It is also important to acknowledge and understand the power we have as individuals and as a community to combat stigma accompanying HIV/AIDS and domestic abuse and bring change to existing institutions. Reducing stigma by acknowledging anyone – regardless of gender – can be in an abusive relationship, and that domestic abuse is more than physical abuse; domestic abuse can also be mental abuse and emotional abuse. Stigma reduction also helps in disregarding victim-blaming narratives linked with HIV/AIDS and domestic abuse, respectively. Educating ourselves to understand the circumstances that would lead to a HIV diagnosis or to someone being with an abuser, likewise, helps reduce victim-blaming. For example, understanding that prevention measures such as nPEP and PrEP may not be available due to lack of accessible healthcare options, or unable to access because a person’s abuser is controlling their lives, are two examples of how reducing stigma also reduces victim-blaming.
I believe we as a nation will reach equity in regard to race, gender identity and expression, and sexuality. True equity would mean no one would be able to determine a person’s health outcomes based on their race, gender identity and expression, and/or sexuality. We can and do have the power to combat HIV/AIDS and domestic abuse in all of our communities, across race, LGBTQ identities, and other dimensions.
“I really believe that LGBTQ hate crimes, domestic violence, discrimination and bias are still quite a problem in our time. Since I was involved in a support group for LGBTQ folks (Dignity/Integrity Richmond, now defunct, from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s) I became aware of these issues, particularly LGBTQ domestic violence. All of these issues were occurring then and I am quite sure they continue to occur today. For the most part I think LGBTQ folks are aware of these issues but for the most part I think LGBTQ folks, for whatever their reasons, don’t report them or try to deal with them on their own. This is the reason, I think for surveys like this one and I think it’s a good thing.” — Gay male, 51, Henrico*
You can reach the Virginia Disease Prevention Hotline (Monday-Friday, 8am-5pm) at 1-800-533-4148, where counselors answer questions and provide crisis intervention, referrals, and written educational materials regarding Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs), HIV/AIDS, and Viral Hepatitis.
If you or someone you know needs help or resources, contact the LGBTQ partner abuse and sexual assault helpline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at 1-866-356-6998. Or, text 804-793-9999 or chat: www.vadata.org/chat
*The quotes in this post come from the Virginia Anti-Violence Project 2008 Survey.
 Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and non-occupational post-exposure prophylaxis (nPEP) are HIV prevention strategies. They are medical interventions and public health approaches used to prevent infection. (Learn more about PrEP and nPEP.)
Christian Carr is a Ryland Roane Fellow for the Virginia Department of Health and is currently working alongside Minority Health Consortium to help empower the Richmond, Virginia community.