Why I Stand Behind RISE For Youth

Did you know that the average annual cost of confinement in a state juvenile prison in Virginia is $137,000 per youth? Did you know youth as young as 11 years old can be confined to a state juvenile prison?

These are just a few quick facts you will learn after taking a look at the RISE (Re-Invest in Supportive Environments) For Youth Action Kit. RISE for Youth is a nonpartisan campaign that supports investing in youth in their communities, rather than youth in prison.

I encourage others to take a look at RISE for Youth’s Action Kit. Not only does it include great facts that everyone should know in order to help make a positive change in their community, but it also contains many helpful tips.

If you don’t know how to begin taking action in your community, the action kit gives you five intimidation-free ways that you can start today! Using these tips, it will be easy for you to begin voicing your opinion and sharing information with others to start a movement in your community.

Virginia’s length of stay for youth in juvenile prisons is over twice the national average: 18.2 months in Virginia compared to 8.4 months nationally.

                                                                                                                –RISE for Youth Action Kit

RISE for Youth encourages you to speak up about issues that you’re passionate about, which is why their action kit even lists some tips for writing your own opinion editorial. They list six simple tips that will give you the courage to write to your local newspaper, start a blog, or share your opinion on Facebook.

 

Make sure to check out RISE For Youth’s Action Kit. Also, be sure to head to their website for other resources, such as statistics, stories, and a letter than you can send to Virginia lawmakers.

About Rise For Youth

RISE for Youth is a nonpartisan campaign in support of community alternatives to youth incarceration.

Goals:

  • Increase the likelihood that youth will become law-abiding adults by investing in community-based alternatives to juvenile justice system involvement.
  • Reduce the number of youth arrested, referred, under the supervision of the Department of Juvenile Justice or committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice.
  • Close Virginia’s juvenile prisons and re-invest savings from their closure into evidence-informed, community-based alternatives that will keep youth at home with their families and communities and keep communities safer.
  • Build a true continuum of evidence-informed placements for youth that cannot safely remain in their homes.

Join RISE For Youth in their movement to transform Virginia’s juvenile justice system! Already joined the movement? Tell us about your experience and/or how you plan to take action in the comments!

Featured image Source: http://www.riseforyouth.org


Ki’ara Montgomery is a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University with plans to graduate in May 2017. She is obtaining a bachelor’s degree in public relations, and minors in business and gender, sexuality, and women’s studies. While in school, she has had opportunities with VCU AmeriCorps, Culture4MyKids, VCU School of Education, and the Richmond Raiders. She is currently interning with the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance with focuses in development, policy, and communication.


This article is part of the Action Alliance’s blog series on Virginia’s Trauma-to-Prison-Pipeline.

The Trauma-to-Prison-Pipeline (aka “School-to-Prison-Pipeline”) fails young trauma survivors and young people experiencing high levels of toxic stress by responding in overly punitive ways to youth who exhibit normal reactions to trauma.

Youth of color and youth with disabilities are particularly targeted for disproportionately high levels of heavy-handed, punitive responses to vague and subjective infractions in school, such as “being disrespectful”, or “acting out”. Viewed from a trauma-informed lens, these same behaviors may signal youth who are suffering and struggling with ongoing effects of trauma.

The Action Alliance believes that everyone deserves racially equitable responses that are compassionate and trauma-informed, and which build individual and community assets.


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

 

Yes, Hate Has Consequences

“My mom literally just texted me ‘don’t wear the Hijab please’ and she’s the most religious person in our family….”

When we must choose between our safety and the freedom to be who we are, there is a problem. Following the election of President-Elect Donald Trump, there has been a substantial rise in the number of hate crimes being reported in the United States. Over 800 cases have been reported since Election Day, November 8th.

When President-Elect Trump used his campaign to call for a “total and complete shutdown of all Muslims entering the United States,” many Muslim-Americans began to fear for their lives. When he spoke about the entire African American community synonymously with this country’s inner cities, many in Black America felt silenced. To generalize an entire group of people under statements like, “You’re living in your poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed — what the hell do you have to lose?” not only gave those outside of this community a false sense of all Black American lives, but disregarded the accomplishments and contrasting lifestyles of so many African Americans. In the same way, the President-Elect’s comments on Mexican immigrants as well as promises of a physical wall to keep them out of America have painted a detrimentally false narrative of Mexican Americans and immigrants in general.

President-Elect Trump’s comments are not the only ones to make sweeping and harmful assertions about entire groups of Americans. Vice President-Elect, Mike Pence has openly opposed equal rights for the LGBTQ community and has fought for public funding of so-called “conversion therapy”, a practice that has been deemed harmful to LGBTQ persons and rejected for decades by every mainstream medical and mental health organization.

The targets of these generalizations are primarily people of color and people who already feel vulnerable and isolated in this country due to the systematic oppression that thrives in America. Accordingly, when Donald Trump won the election, some Americans felt it validated his portrayal of people of color in this country. Statistically, the amount of reported hate crimes soared. A few of these cases, both reported and unreported, are exemplified in the following online posts.

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Image Credit: mashable.com

car

Image Credit: facebook.com

whiteagain

Image Credit: facebook.com

 

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Image Credit: Facebook.com

Even online, however, those sharing their stories are met with criticism. Still, there are online spaces that remain open and accepting. The victims of post-election hate crimes and allies have joined together to combat hatred through a variety of media from protests to online safe spaces. In these spaces, people have open discussions about how to deal with the increase in blatant racism, whether they are victims of it themselves or allies of these victims.

In a time that is leaving so many scared to merely exist as they are, advocates for survivors of trauma have extra work to do to provide trauma-informed help in this context. Two articles, listed below, are examples of helpful resources for survivors of trauma and their helpers.

“How to Cope With Post-Election Stress”

“I’m a therapist: Here’s how I help patients traumatized by the election.”

 

Dominique is a Hotline Crisis Services Specialist at the Action Alliance as well as an Intern for the Real Story journalism internship. She graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a B.S. in Mass Communications and a B.A. in African American Studies. She is an aspiring filmmaker and loves to create as well as watch others’ creations on the big screen.

The Real Story Internship analyzes and rewrites news stories to reflect a trauma-informed, survivor-centered and racial justice lens.

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

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

Hidden pearls: A reflection on campus advocacy

The day Leonard Cohen died, I listened to his song, “Hallelujah”, performed by Grace Love. In college, I was obsessed with the album Grace by Jeff Buckley and it was his rendition of “Hallelujah” that first introduced me to this song. Cohen struggled with writing what turned out to be his most memorable song, and it did not become popular until much later, after many other artists covered it. It dawned on me that sometimes a pearl is left to be discovered after the thrashing tides bury the jewel delivered by life’s most difficult moments.

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Credit: JeffBuckley.com

Over 20 years ago I found myself walking 5 miles back to my dorm room in the cold dark hours before the sun came up after an experience I would later understand as sexual assault. I was enraged at what had happened, and it was that anger that powered my feet to get back to my own bed. I was lucky that year to find a community of advocates, feminists, queer spaces, and other groups engaged in justice work. I found spaces where I could grapple with the relentless experiences of sexism I encountered, the weight of the privilege I carried, and eventually the meaning of the assault I had yet to acknowledge.

Many years later, my path led me to working at the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance doing systems advocacy, prevention program development, and social change work. For 10 years, I was part of incredible projects that I believe had an impact in Virginia and the nation. This year, I made a professional transition to work in higher education as the director of a campus resource center for students who have experienced gender-based violence and harassment. It has been quite a change from doing “macro” level work to direct services and this significant professional transition has left me with a few reflections. Advocates who have the privilege to walk with survivors in the aftermath of assault or abuse have a unique understanding of how violence and trauma manifest; it weaves its way into muscles, marrow, and matter. All the education, models, tips, and tools that have been brilliantly created to assist in providing the most appropriate response can’t prepare us for what this role entails. This is the hardest job in our field; it requires deep empathy, compassion, and vulnerability– something our culture unfortunately teaches us to offer sparingly.

While I grapple with the sacredness of this role and balancing caring for others and caring for myself, I am struck by the vibrant energy of college students and the passion and understanding they have about the issues of sexual and interpersonal violence. At times I struggle with how slow progress is, but I am inspired and hopeful when surrounded by students. Far beyond my level of understanding when I was their age, they grasp the intersectionality of violence and sexism, racism, heterosexism, xenophobia, and classism, and how they are woven into our culture. We all, in one way or another, are affected by the many ways in which violence and oppression show up in our institutions and culture. Like sand in the ocean, oppression has a way of invading us, entering our souls, irritating our lungs and our muscles.

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Credit: quotesgram.com

 

The majority of students I work with are survivors of their own trauma, who harness their experiences not only into practical support when another person needs it, but collectively are part of a larger force responsible for the culture shift to the kind of community we envision for ourselves. It feels less shameful to be out as a survivor these days, which is a welcome change as we continue to break down the divide between “advocates” and “survivors,” a false division that erases the major contributions survivors have made in this movement and fails to acknowledge survivors as the driving force of this work.

We have a long way to get to the community we envision for ourselves. The constant rubbing of violence and oppression on our bodies and souls can make us raw and brittle. Fortunately the human spirit is resilient and quite possibly magical. It heals. Were it not for life’s sand paper, we may never reach another level of knowing and genius that comes from surviving. Like a pearl in nature, sometimes our most powerful gifts form as a response to an irritant or invader. As I walk around campus, work with students, and reflect on my own life, I am more and more encouraged about the state of our movement and where we go from here. I walk among a sea of pearls who will carry forward a legacy of strength, compassion, and love.

 

Liz Cascone is the Director of The Haven at William & Mary, a peer-based confidential, welcoming, and inclusive resource center for those impacted by sexual violence and harassment, relationship abuse and intimate partner violence, stalking, and other gender-based discrimination.

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

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

 

The Power of Advocacy

In Virginia, sexual and domestic violence agencies (SDVAs) utilize a system called VAdata to capture information about the services they provide and the needs of people who access those services. For folks less familiar with VAdata, it is an incredibly useful data collection system that leads many an advocate to groan (show of hands if you love filling out data forms…anyone?) Although data collection can feel burdensome to advocates busily providing crisis intervention, counseling, and support to survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence, it is an often under-rated tool for advocacy.

Advocacy Works-FINAL11x22-2.jpgSo, what does VAdata have to do with advocacy? Since 2009, VAdata has included a data collection component, called Documenting Our Work, that tracks information on the range of services provided by SDVAs and the impact these services have on survivors and communities statewide. Documenting Our Work is unique in that survivors have the opportunity to tell us in their own words how their lives have been affected by the advocacy they have received from Virginia’s SDVAs.

This summer, the Action Alliance looked at the Documenting Our Work data from the past 5 years and the results resoundingly affirmed what we already knew to be true: ADVOCACY WORKS. Survivors consistently report that SDVAs help them build trust and restore hope. The overwhelming majority of survivors tell us they receive the help they need, whether that be help finding safe and affordable housing, help with immigration concerns, or help addressing emotional needs in the wake of traumatic life events.

Advocates are on the ground each and every day providing vital services to survivors and may not always get to hear about how powerful and life-changing is their work. We want advocates to know that, through Documenting Our Work, survivors consistently report that these services are making a huge impact in their lives. Don’t take my word for it – here are just a few examples of what survivors have said:

  • “The staff has shown me unending kindness and helped me better accept myself in this situation.”
  • “I know I am not alone.”
  • “They left me feeling empowered.”
  • “They are very positive and helpful people here. I wouldn’t be where I am today without their help.”

Want to see the data? We created this cool infographic to illustrate the power of advocacy in Virginia.

Kristen Pritchard is Prevention and Evaluation Coordinator at the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance, Virginia’s leading voice on sexual and domestic violence. She received her B.S. in Psychology and Human Services from Old Dominion University in 2012 and her Master of Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2015. Kristen travels across the state of Virginia to provide training and technical assistance to organizations on various issues such as reproductive coercion, healthy sexuality, and trauma-informed advocacy.

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

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

Shelter a Pet, Save a Life

Did you know that 2/3 of all households have pets? That is a lot of people. Did you also know that people have in fact died because the places they sought refuge from would or could not shelter their pets?

Remember Hurricane Katrina and the startling images of people forced to abandon their pets or of people who refused to leave their pets behind?  This catastrophe led to a shift in how service systems responded to families with pets in times of crisis.

Yet we have a long way to go, especially in Virginia where very few shelters accept pets. We can change this.

logo3-smWe recently had the privilege of having renowned animal advocate and founder of Sheltering Animals and Families Together, Allie Phillips Esq., present a webinar on how shelters can work towards sheltering the pets of survivors of sexual and domestic violence. During the webinar, Allie shared that she gets many emails daily from survivors asking for help in leaving an abusive situation – help that involves NOT leaving their pets behind to be tortured, killed, or abused. To have to choose between their own safety and that of a beloved pet is one that no one should have to make.

Understandably, some shelters have concerns about costs and the practicality of actually allowing pets in their residences. Many of these concerns were addressed in Allie’s webinar and she offers real-life examples of shelters who are making it work all over the country. Funding issues, vet care, physical accommodations and more are addressed in the webinar. Allie does an excellent job of breaking down the myths and all the reasons why it’s not possible to all the ways it IS possible.

We encourage everyone to take 1 hour and watch this resource-packed webinar and make plans to change how intake and safety planning are done so that pets are part of the equation. Get your communities involved as well! Everyone from vets, to animal shelters, to animal control, to law enforcement, to churches and more have a vested interest in saving the lives of survivors who just want to keep their pets with them and safe.

To illustrate the dire need for us to act, consider quotes from actual survivors:

“I stayed alive over a fish. When I had nothing else, I had a fish. It kept me going.

“If I had known about [this pet housing program] ahead of time, that would have saved my animals through the years that I’ve lost because of my abuser.”

The recorded version of the webinar is here. And if you are interested in doing more, reach out to us at training@vsdvalliance.org. We would love to exchange ideas, resources, and plans so that we can all work together to serve more survivors with pets.

Laura Bennett is the Training Institute Coordinator for the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. She is the mother of 2 girls, 4 cats, and 3 dogs. She has worked in the nonprofit sector for over 15 years and is passionate about helping nonprofits build their capacity to carry out their missions. A native of New York state, she is happy to be living in the warm South.

To check out the conferences and training that Laura helps produce, click here.

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

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

 

New Law: Person’s Subject to a “permanent” Protective Order

As of July 1, 2016, a new law went into effect: 

Persons subject to a “permanent” Protective Order may not possess a firearm.

 What does this mean? Here are answers to frequently asked questions: 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why is this legislation significant?

Domestic violence and firearms are a lethal combination. This new law is a critical step forward in limiting access to guns for perpetrators of intimate partner violence.

The new legislation brings Virginia in line with current federal law, which has prohibited for decades possession of a firearm for persons subject to protective order.  The problem is that it was virtually unenforceable at the state level because only federal law enforcement and prosecutors have the authority to act on federal law. This meant that it was very difficult—if not nearly impossible—to effectively remove guns from perpetrators of intimate partner violence.

The legislation provides an additional safety measure for victims choosing to seek a Family Abuse Protective Order against someone who owns a gun.  Prior to this legislation, there was no impetus on localities to address the presence of firearms in domestic violence.  The new law provides law enforcement, prosecutors and the courts a new tool for removing firearms from these dangerous situations and demands systemic action to ensure that violations of the law are enforced.

This policy alone will not eliminate intimate partner homicides, but it is an important and necessary step to reducing these preventable deaths.

 

2. What does the legislation do?

Prior to the new law, persons subject to a “permanent” Protective Order were prohibited from purchasing or transporting a firearm, but not prohibited from keeping firearms they already had in their possession.

The new law prohibits possession of a firearm for persons subject to a “permanent” Family Abuse Protective Order (the type issued after a hearing and lasting up to 2 years). Respondents have 24 hours to sell or transfer all guns or face being charged with a felony.

3. What does the legislation not do?

The new law only applies to “permanent” Family Abuse Protective Orders.

The new law does not apply to:

  • emergency or preliminary Family Abuse Protective Orders;
  • emergency, preliminary or “permanent” Acts of Violence Protective Orders issued by the General District Court. The “Acts of Violence” protective orders are not intended to address domestic violence.  They apply to situations where the individuals are not current family or household members, or are not former family and household members with a child in common.

The new law does not provide a plan for implementation.  It does not prescribe or layout a process for the voluntary or involuntary removal/surrender of firearms. It also does not describe a process for safely and lawfully returning firearms after the Protective Order has expired.

4. What issues should your community be discussing regarding implementation?

Because the new law goes into effect July 1, 2016 and does not tell localities “how” to make it happen, it is important that localities begin having discussions about how the new law will be implemented.  Below are a few key issues to consider:

IDENTIFICATION: 

  1. How will the courts identify respondents who possess a firearm?
  2. Will judges ask about respondents during the protective order hearing whether or not they possess firearms?
  3. Will petitioners be asked if the respondent owns a firearm? Will they be asked during the hearing?  Will a question be included on the petition?

NOTIFICATION: 

  1. How will respondents be informed that they are prohibited from possessing a firearm? Verbally?  In writing?
  2. Will respondents be notified at the time of issuance? At service? Both?

REMOVAL/STORAGE:

  1. There are numerous methods for removal: voluntary surrender, search and seize or a hybrid of the two. What removal options will be used?
  2. Will respondents be ordered to surrender firearms by the courts? To whom?
  3. What follow up is in place to ensure surrender/removal? Will the courts hold a review hearing to ensure removal within 24 hours?
  4. Will law enforcement inquire about firearms at service and allow voluntary surrender at time of service?
  5. Will law enforcement have the authority to search and seize at service of the order?
  6. What role can a respondent’s attorneys have in surrender and compliance?
  7. Once firearms have been surrendered or removed, where will they be stored and by whom? Law enforcement? Third party?  Firearm dealer?
  8. What is the process for storage? Receipt for firearms—proof of surrender? Fee for storage? Liability issues re: damage while in storage?
  9. What qualifications or procedures are needed for third party storage?
  10. What happens to unclaimed firearms?

RETURN:

  1. What, if any, process will be in place to notify petitioners if firearms are returned?
  2. What, if any, process will be in place to ensure firearms are lawfully returned? For example, not returned to a prohibited party?

For more information on the above, including best practices from other states:  http://efsgv.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Removal-Report-Updated-2-11-16.pdf

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picture: DCJS

5. What’s next?

Key stakeholders will be convening soon to discuss numerous issues surrounding the effective implementation of the new law and to develop guidelines to assist localities. In the meantime, we encourage localities to consider policy, procedural and practice changes needed to enforce this new law to protect victims and help respondents comply.

Questions? Contact:  Kristine Hall at khall@vsdvalliance.org or 804-377-0335

Kristine Hall is the Policy Director at the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. She has supported Anti-Violence work for over 20 years.

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call804.377.0335

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

 

 

We Can Do Hard Things

 In the wake of recent headlines, you may be asking yourself, like many of us: What can I do? Where do I start?

 Violence against African-Americans is not new – but these days it is in the forefront of the media and our growing collective conscious. We, as Virginians, can look back across history and see the cumulative effects of trauma experienced by African-Americans. We see this compounded over time and connected to experiences of and responses to sexual assault and domestic violence. We wonder about our capacity as individuals, as advocates, as communities to make lasting change, to create space for healing. We think – this is too big, too hard. We think, what can I possibly do anyway?

Our response is this – everyone can do something. Not everyone can or will march in rallies. Not everyone will work with legislators and policymakers. Not everyone will write inspired editorials that capture national attention. But everyone can do something.

i can do hard things       ***********************

We invite you to commit, right now, to spending August 10-12 in Richmond with us at The Warmth of Other Suns conference.

This groundbreaking conference is the first of its kind in Virginia and is a must-attend for anyone working in the anti-violence field. It is not limited to people of specific ethnic or racial identities and it is not limited to people who are far along in anti-oppression work.

You will learn. You will think. You will engage. You will be inspired. You will consider again and again (and then re-consider) the connections between racism, oppression, privilege, and violence towards our African-American communities in Virginia.

And by doing all of these things, you play a vital role in preventing, healing, and ending the violence that has afflicted our communities for far too long.

We look forward to a time of deep learning, connecting, reflecting, and healing together with a diverse and thoughtful group of participants.

Please join us – be a part of something bigger than yourself and take action with us today.

Warmthofothersuns.org

richard wright

To check out other training opportunities, click here.

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

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

New Marriage Age Law Equals Better Protections for Thousands

Over the last 10 years in Virginia, thousands of children were married, as young as 13 years old; 90% were girls, and 90% of the time they married adults, who were sometimes decades older.

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news.vawnet.org

The only barrier between them and a marriage license? A clerk’s rubber stamp based on parental consent or, for those under age 16, parental consent + pregnancy. There was no age floor, and no safeguards against forced marriage or other abuse or exploitation.

But as of July 1, when a new law goes into effect, young people will be enabled to make their own decisions about marriage, to advocate for themselves, and to have the opportunity to lead healthy and fulfilling lives.

The new law responds to a long list of urgent concerns flagged by advocates during the legislative process. These include:

  • Forced marriage is a serious problem in the U.S. that impacts many adolescent girls;
  • Child marriage can result in devastating, lifelong harm;
  • Girls aged 16-19 are at heightened risk of abuse;
  • All of the marriage licenses granted to children under age 15, and most of those granted to pregnant 15-17 year olds, sanctioned statutory rape as defined in Virginia;
  • Age 16 is the minimum age in Virginia to petition a court to be considered a legal adult (“emancipated”), marriage does not automatically emancipate minors, and unemancipated minors do not have the same rights as an adult to protect themselves in case of abuse (e.g., to seek a protective order or go to a shelter); and
  • Minors who are abused by their partners instead of their parents are outside of Child Protective Services’ jurisdiction in Virginia.

Given all these data points, Virginia’s current marriage age laws fly in the face of common sense and Virginia’s other laws and policies to protect children.

Today, if Virginia’s minimum marriage age laws were represented as an equation, they might read: Zero legal protection + minimal legal rights = extreme vulnerability. That’s an equation that results in serious consequences to girls’ health, safety, and well-being.

The new law will ensure that only individuals age 18 or older, or emancipated minors, can marry in Virginia.

IMG_1329GroupBeforeSigningCeremony

Beth Halpern, Hope Kestle, Vivian Hamilton, Jeanne Smoot, Kristine Hall, Rebecca Robinson, Kristi VanAudenhove, Delegate Jennifer McClellan

Companion reform bills (HB 703/ SB 415) were successfully championed this legislative session by Delegate Jennifer McClellan (D) and Senator Jill Vogel (R), and strongly supported by a broad coalition led by the Tahirih Justice Center in partnership with the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance and Prevent Child Abuse Virginia.

Key provisions include:

Procedural safeguards

  • 16 or 17 year olds seeking to emancipate in order to marry will petition a juvenile and domestic relations judge, who will hold a hearing, issue written findings, and can order a Department of Social Services investigation or issue other orders as appropriate;
  • the minor will be appointed an attorney (guardian ad litem, or “GAL”); and
  • if the petition is granted, the minor will be given the rights of a legal adult.

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Substantive criteria
To grant the petition, the judge must find that:

  • the minor is not being forced or coerced to marry;
  • the parties are sufficiently mature;
  • the marriage will not endanger the minor (taking into account age differences and any history of violence between the parties, as well as criminal convictions for crimes of violence or crimes against minors); and
  • the marriage is in the minor’s best interests – but very importantly, neither pregnancy nor parental wishes is sufficient to establish “best interests.”

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Improved protections for children from being forced into marriage, and from the many other risks and harms of child marriage

This is tremendously important progress, but we need your help to make sure this new law actually works as intended:

  1. Spread the news! Talk about the new law when you present to schools or youth audiences. Share it with family lawyers, GALs, social workers, CASA advocates, and other children’s advocates with whom you work.
  2. Monitor implementation! If judges and GALs do not do a vigilant job, or teens are too afraid to disclose in court what is really happening, or abusive parents or partners try to evade the new law, a vulnerable teen’s next phone call may be to your agency.
  3. Share stories with us! We are working with national partners to urge that child marriage be eliminated in every U.S. state. Knowing how this new law is working (or what snags it hits in implementation) will not only be crucially important to enable us to course-correct as needed in Virginia, but also to drive reforms in other states.

To learn more about the alarming data-points that built momentum behind this new law, see our earlier blog post: “Empowering Girls in Virginia to Choose If, When and Whom to Marry” (January 11, 2016). Please contact Jeanne Smoot at the Tahirih Justice Center, jeanne@tahirih.org or 571-282-6161, for more info or to share your experiences.

Jeanne Smoot is the Senior Counsel for Policy and Strategy at the Tahirih Justice Center, where for over a decade she has helped lead innovative advocacy initiatives to reduce vulnerabilities of immigrant women and girls to violence and to empower them as survivors.

 

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

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

Advocacy Day with NNEDV

That day the sun was out and the wind was blowing hard, but underneath the capitol you would not know it. It was the day that Hillary Clinton was named the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party for President of the United States, that Prime Minister Modi of India was visiting Washington, and that the powerful and articulate survival letter published in response to the Stanford sexual assault trial on BuzzFeed was circulating among the public consciousness. I was there for National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) Advocacy Day, along with other advocates from across Virginia to meet with our State Representatives. I felt inspired to be part of the communication process while seated with strong and committed women long at work and dedicated to using their voices advocating for those experiencing violence as a very real part of their daily lives.

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courtesy NNEDV

Come the new fiscal year, the additional funding made available will hugely affect available services that have previously been lacking. We both thanked our representatives for their part and expressed the importance of stabilizing future funding. Once survivors are able to access these essential services it would be detrimental to cut them off again as the budget fluctuates from year to year. Advocates involved in local programs were able express just how these resources are going bridge the gap for the survivors in their own communities on the ground. For example: did you know that previously there was only one dedicated therapist for sexual assault in Fairfax County with a population of over one million? Did you know that in South West Virginia there was only one court advocate for the region commuting hours in a day from one court house to the next and being forced to deny support to countless survivors? This will change for the better with new funding, Charlottesville as well as its’ surrounding counties will be able to engage in prevention work for the first time in a long time.

There is still much to be done. The tone of some meetings were most concerned with instances of false accusations of rape or how our cause threatens gun accessibility, conversations that demonstrated why we were there. We are still forced to turn away many seeking services– on one day in Virginia we turned away 170 families due to a lack of funding. We also face the issue of separating the needs of survivors from the general homeless population, when it comes to shelter policies. Striving to keep survivors in their homes when violence or assault is occurring, or realistically getting a plan in place within the 30 days’ time allotted for emergency shelter, is impractical for those we serve. Transitional housing allows for continuation of the supportive services this population requires, whether it be due to ongoing legal cases, pressing health concerns, or newly gained control over personal finances. The next fiscal years’ funding has not yet passed. It is being held up due in part, to “controversial” LGBTQ issues that are attached. Little time is left before break and then campaigning will begin for the upcoming election. In years like these it may be best to hope that the bill from last year carries through, and know that so much relies on those who occupy the seats in house, senate, and the presidency.

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Sen. Leahy and Sen. Crapo – picture courtesy of NNEDV

Charlotte Hoskins is an intern in Development, Communication, and Policy at the Virginia Action Alliance. She is an advocate for caring about human diversity as much as biodiversity and allowing people to tell their stories. She has volunteered and worked with organizations dedicated to empowering community. 

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

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

 

The Urgency of Addiction: Children and the Drug Overdose Crisis in Virginia

Each day in Virginia, more than 2 people die from a drug overdose. In the 15 years between 2000 and 2014, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner noted that drug overdose deaths increased by 137%, from 424 to 992 victims. Now outpacing deaths from motor vehicle collisions, drug overdoses reflect our newest public health crisis.

The State Child Fatality Review Team – a brave group of professional women and men who gather several times a year to examine the specifics of child deaths in order to find solutions to these preventable deaths – has spent the past 2 years reviewing child cases of overdose to understand how this crisis is impacting Virginia’s children and their families.  Looking at the 41 deaths of children from poisoning between 2009 and 2013, the Team noted two distinct groups of children, each with their own set of risks: teenagers and infants/young children.

Teenagers who die from poisoning are most often the victims of accidental overdoses while misusing prescription medication, notably narcotics.  A smaller number die by suicide. They are overwhelmingly white and between the ages of 13 and 17. Even at very young ages, teens report a history of substance use and misuse, suffer mental health problems, receive substance abuse treatment, and grow up in homes with substance using and misusing parents. Keys to an effective response for these teens and their families include services that recognize and treat substance misuse in adolescents within the context of family relationships, and building Virginia’s capacity to serve those addicted to prescription medications and illicit drugs.

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picture credit: dbhds.virginia.org

The picture of risk varies among the 15 infants and young children, where supervision by parents and caregivers is critical to their safety. While a majority of deaths were caused by taking prescription medications belonging to someone else, some children died after swallowing simple household products such as a battery, massage oil, or toothpaste.  Some died after accidentally chewing or swallowing a poison, some were murdered when given a lethal dose of medication to get them to sleep or to calm them, and others had no clear circumstances to determine how they died. And like teenagers, most lived with substance using and misusing adults. For these young and vulnerable children, attentive care and supervision by parents and other caregivers is crucial, including their diligence in safely storing medications and other toxic substances in the home.

The Team ended their review with the recognition that children’s overdose deaths reflect a small portion of deaths overall. But the loss of each of these young lives provides a window into a most pressing public health problem, one where the vulnerability of children and the needs of their caretakers are exposed, and the urgency of an effective response to addiction is paramount.

Once finalized in the summer of 2016, the Team’s final report on this review can be found here:  http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/medExam/childfatality-reports.htm.

 

Virginia Powell, Ph.D. is a Program Manager in the Virginia Department of Health in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, in a department devoted to understanding injury and violence patterns through fatality review and surveillance projects.  Dr. Powell coordinated Virginia’s state child fatality review team; assisted in the development of a protocol for use by local domestic violence review teams; and was instrumental in the development of Virginia’s maternal death review team. She is principal investigator for the Virginia Violent Death Reporting System, a CDC funded initiative which is part of the National Violent Death Reporting System.  In Virginia, fatality review is at its core a public health effort designed to understand how and why people die and to educate others about those injuries and deaths in order to assist policy makers, advocates and planners in reducing violence.  

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call804.377.0335.

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org