Empowering Survivors, Curing Stigma: Trauma-Informed Advocacy for Survivors Living with Mental Illness

This May marks the 69th anniversary of Mental Health Month in the United States. The purpose of Mental Health Month is to increase awareness of mental health issues and to empower individuals who live with mental health issues; to challenge stigma; and to help those who suffer heal emotional and psychological wounds.[1]

Sexual assault and intimate partner violence can have significant mental health consequences for survivors.[2] As attorneys and advocates who work with survivors, it is our responsibility to be aware of the signs of trauma in our clients, to ensure that our representation does not worsen the harm done to a client or create additional harms, and to zealously advocate on our clients’ behalf. Many, if not most, survivors who live with mental health, substance use, or trauma-related issues are fully capable of engaging in survivor-driven representation. These clients can make informed decisions about their case, and can understand, deliberate upon, and reach conclusions about matters affecting their own well-being.[3]

Wellness Cairns

There are myriad ways that advocates and attorneys can challenge the stigma surrounding mental illness and offer concrete assistance to survivors who have experienced trauma resulting from multiple victimizations. Attorneys for survivors who are dealing with mental health issues can assist clients by:

  • Recognizing that survivors may be unable to recall all the details of the abuse or violence;
  • Providing options and the time and space for survivors to make fully informed decisions;
  • Validating the survivor’s feelings throughout the process;
  • Being responsive to a survivor’s requests for information and support, even if she asks for the same information several times;
  • Partnering with survivors to identify alternative coping strategies if they are engaging in self-harming behaviors;
  • Finding supports for developing alternative or additional coping strategies;
  • Connecting survivors who are experiencing a mental health crisis with a trusted mental health referral/resource;
  • Offering support to survivors who are using alcohol and/or drugs by safety planning and strategizing to the greatest extent possible at the time (including assessing risks and developing strategies that mitigate the risks posed by alcohol and drug use) and encouraging them to contact you again;
  • Gaining an understanding of the ways in which a client’s unique challenges may impact her ability to engage in the advocacy process;
  • Tailoring interviewing and counseling approaches to meet the needs of and maximize the self-determination of each individual client;
  • Developing a basic understanding of trauma-related and mental health conditions that survivors may experience;
  • Being skilled in listening and asking questions to understand a survivor’s perspective and needs; and
  • Understanding what information and options to offer to meet those needs.[4]

Survivor-driven advocacy requires that attorneys tailor their advocacy approach to meet the unique needs of survivors. It is within the context of a respectful, survivor-driven relationship that lawyers can provide opportunities for survivors experiencing trauma and mental health challenges to access the resources they need and to exercise greater control over their own lives.


Janice Craft is one of two attorneys with the Project for Empowerment of Survivors (PES) at the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. Prior to her work with the Action Alliance, Janice served as the statewide policy director for NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and clerked for the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals of Virginia. Janice is a graduate of William and Mary Law School, where she served as Editor-in-Chief of the William & Mary Journal of Women and the Law. You can reach Janice and the rest of the PES team at legal@vsdvalliance.org.


[1] Mental Health America, http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/may (last visited May 4, 2018).

[2] See, e.g., the National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health, http://www.nationalcenterdvtraumamh.org/ (last visited May 4, 2018).

[3] See, e.g., Comment 1 to Rule 1.14 of the Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct, available at http://www.vsb.org/pro-guidelines/index.php/main/print_view (last visited May 4, 2018).

[4] See Seighman, Mary M., et al., “Representing Domestic Violence Survivors Who Are Experiencing Trauma and Other Mental Health Challenges: A Handbook for Attorneys” (2011), available at http://www.nationalcenterdvtraumamh.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/AttorneyHandbookMay282012.pdf (last visited May 4, 2018).

Healthcare is a Human Right

Ignoring medical need is violence.” – Coretta Scott King

As Virginia’s General Assembly began a special session last Wednesday to approve a state budget, all eyes were on Medicaid expansion. While we continue our fight to #SupportSurvivors and #ExpandMedicaidVA, it is imperative we remember that the latter is critical for the former.

From STI/HIV testing and treatment to forensic rape exams conducted by a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner and ongoing visits with primary care physicians or counselors, survivors of sexual violence need access to a range of medical services not only in the immediate aftermath of violence, but over the span of their lives. These physical and mental healthcare services reduce the effects of trauma and help survivors rebuild their lives.

Although Medicaid currently provides health insurance coverage for almost one million Virginians, hundreds of thousands of people in Virginia remain uninsured. If Virginia does not expand Medicaid, many will remain in a coverage gap – having incomes above the Medicaid eligibility limits (in 2017, the limit was at or below $28,180 for a family of three), but below the lower limit for Marketplace premium tax credits.

For survivors who fall in this coverage gap and are left without health insurance, there may not always be many options to receive the proper care and medical attention they need. In fact, according to the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, the estimated lifetime cost of rape is $122,461 per survivor, or a population economic burden of nearly $3.1 trillion over survivors’ lifetimes (based on data indicating >25 million U.S. adults have been raped) with $1.2 trillion being attributed to medical costs. If Medicaid is expanded, 400,000 Virginians could get access to quality, affordable health insurance, which would result in more access to life-saving medical services for survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence.

93 percent

Source: Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance

Furthermore, Medicaid benefits include family planning services, comprehensive maternity care, treatment for chronic conditions, treatment for breast and cervical cancer, and long-term care services and supports. Additional services covered by many state Medicaid programs also include case management, transportation, and childbirth and infant education services. This means that if Medicaid is expanded, the burden on sexual and domestic violence programs to fulfill these needs would be reduced.

Join us in taking action now to stand with survivors of violence by supporting Medicaid expansion.

In fact, in 2016, 93% of survivors accessing sexual and domestic violence services reported receiving help with healthcare coverage/costs. This not only shows that healthcare is among the top priorities for survivors in Virginia, but further illustrates how Medicaid expansion may reduce the service burden for local sexual and domestic violence agencies.

Additionally, according to a report by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women who have experienced domestic violence are 8o% more likely to have a stroke, 70% more likely to have heart disease, and 60% more likely to have asthma than women who have not experienced domestic violence. If Medicaid is expanded in Virginia, more survivors of violence would have access to the life-saving medical services they need.

Regardless of income, all survivors of violence should be able to receive the medical and mental health services needed to help them heal. Expanding access to healthcare means better safety and wellness for survivors. Join us in taking action now to stand with survivors of violence by supporting Medicaid expansion.

Featured image source: Associated Press


Maryum Elnasseh is a second-year student at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she is double-majoring in journalism and political science, with a concentration in civil rights. At the Action Alliance, Maryum is an intern for the Real Story Internship. She hopes to use her voice as a tool to ignite

Virtual Legislative Advocacy Week Is Here!

Join us online for statewide Virtual Legislative Advocacy Week (#VLAW18)! Starting Monday (the week of February 5-9), we will #AmplifySurvivorVoices and take to Facebook, Twitter, email, and phones to advocate for policies that enhance violence prevention and education, improve services for victims and communities, and support offender accountability.

You must register for Virtual Legislative Advocacy Week to gain access to our 2018 Virtual Advocate’s Toolkit, a handy interactive document which offers legislator contacts, sample messages and scripts, images, infographics, and strategies for how best to engage your legislators.

Why is legislative advocacy important?

Lawmakers can’t be experts on all issues all the time. Who are the experts on sexual and intimate partner violence? People who have been directly affected by sexual and intimate partner violence–and the professionals who help them–which is us! It’s our job to make sure that lawmakers who vote on issues affecting survivors are knowledgeable about the issues before they vote.

VLAW logo-red coverIs legislative advocacy a good use of my time?

Yes…because lawmakers listen to their constituents. Pretty much every contact you have with a legislator and/or their staff is noted in order to keep track of where constituents stand on any given issue. Lawmakers want to be accountable to their constituents…and it’s also in their best interests to do so. Plus, your voice/ knowledge/point of view is worth sharing!

Action Alliance Policy Priorities for the 2018 General Assembly Session

We know that the voices of survivors are amplified when advocates speak out. Take a look at our legislative priorities for the 2018 General Assembly session. See what issues resonate most with those you serve in your agency, which policies may have a direct impact in your area, and how you can contact your legislators and law makers in your area to advocate for changes that are trauma-informed and center the safety, privacy, and dignity of survivors.

Newcomer to legislative advocacy? This webinar’s for you!

If thoughts of interacting with your legislators terrify you, or trying to keep up with the legislative process throws you into a tizzy, this webinar (presented in PowerPoint style with voice prompts) may help you navigate some of the murky waters of the General Assembly.

You will be guided through learning about how Virginia’s government functions, how bills flow through the legislative process to become laws, and how to stay informed through the process. Click here to access the presentation.


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

Bridging the Justice Gap in Virginia

The Action Alliance’s newly-launched Project for the Empowerment of Survivors (“PES”) helps to bridge the justice gap in Virginia by connecting survivors of intimate partner violence with the legal services they need.

Since 1993, the Action Alliance has provided sexual assault and domestic violence survivors with emotional support, safety planning, and other trauma-informed services through its toll-free statewide hotline. Over the years, the hotline (and the demand for hotline services) has grown by leaps and bounds, including by adding a dedicated LGBTQ+ helpline, expanding hotline hours to provide 24/7/365 support, and increasing the number of multilingual advocates who are available to answer calls from survivors.

The PES, the hotline’s new legal services division, is a natural outgrowth of these existing services. Survivors often have legal questions in addition to other inquiries. While some callers can access the legal services they need through Legal Aid or other pro bono resources, numerous studies confirm the ever-widening justice gap in Virginia and elsewhere.

The “justice gap” refers to the civil legal needs of low-income Americans, versus the legal resources available to meet those needs.[1] In Virginia alone:

  • Over 80% of the civil legal needs of low-income individuals go unmet;
  • One in eight Virginians is eligible for free legal services from Legal Aid, but there are not enough Legal Aid attorneys available to meet the need for services;
  • There is one Legal Aid lawyer per 7,237 low-income individuals in Virginia; and
  • Individuals who have attorneys are twice as likely to have a favorable outcome in court, versus individuals who are unrepresented.[2]

The need for free or low-cost legal services is particularly acute for survivors of intimate partner violence, where “[i]ndirect and lasting economic consequences ripple throughout survivors’ lives long after the abuse has stopped, compounding their effects and creating increased vulnerability to future abuse.”[3]

Open sign-james-sutton-199643

Photo by James Sutton on Unsplash

The PES seeks to bridge the justice gap for survivors in the following ways:

  • By partnering with local sexual assault and domestic violence agencies to identify survivors who need legal services;
  • By employing dedicated legal interns and advocates to answer legal questions and provide legal information to survivors;
  • By employing on-staff attorneys to provide free legal counsel and advice to survivors;
  • By referring survivors to community-based private attorneys who agree to take cases on a reduced fee or pro bono basis;
  • By training attorneys and advocates to provide trauma-informed legal services and legal advocacy; and
  • By helping survivors from marginalized communities pay for private attorneys through the use of our Legal Fund.

If you are a survivor in need of legal services, please call our Statewide Hotline at (800) 838-8238 and ask to speak with a member of our legal team. We are here to help.

If you are an attorney who is interested in providing pro bono or reduced fee services to domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, please contact Carmen Williams, PES Project Manager, at (804) 377-0335, or email us at legal@vsdvalliance.org.


Janice Craft is one of two attorneys with the Project for Empowerment of Survivors at the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. Prior to her work with the Action Alliance, Janice served as the statewide policy director for NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and clerked for the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals of Virginia. Janice is a graduate of William and Mary Law School, where she served as Editor-in-Chief of the William & Mary Journal of Women and the Law.


[1] See Legal Services Corporation, America’s Partner for Equal Justice, https://www.lsc.gov/media-center/publications/2017-justice-gap-report (last accessed Nov. 17, 2017).

[2] “Access to Justice: Free and Low Cost Legal Resources in Virginia,” Virginia State Bar, available at http://www.vsb.org/docs/probono/access-guide.pdf (last accessed Nov. 17, 2017).

[3] Shoener, Sara J. & Sussman, Erika A., “Economic Ripple Effect of IPV: Building Partnerships for Systemic Change,” Domestic Violence Report (Aug./Sept. 2013), available at https://csaj.org/document-library/Shoener_and_Sussman_2013_-_Economic_Ripple_Effect_of_IPV.pdf (last accessed Nov. 17, 2017).

Study Finds Majority of Crime Survivors Support Shorter Prison Sentences, Alternatives to Incarceration

A first-of-its-kind national survey released by the Alliance for Safety and Justice bucks conventional wisdom regarding the views of crime victims/survivors on incarceration.

Despite popular assumptions that crime victims/survivors support long sentences and prison expansion, the National Survey of Victims’ Views finds that survivors would prefer the criminal justice system focus more on rehabilitation than punishment by a 2 to 1 margin.

In fact, 61 percent of crime survivors support shorter prison sentences and more spending on prevention and rehabilitation to long prison sentences. The vast majority of survivors also prefer investments in education, mental health treatment, drug treatment, and job training to more spending on prisons and jails.

Alternative to incarceration

By a margin of nearly 3 to 1, crime survivors believe that time in prison makes people more likely to commit another crime rather than less likely. These views cut across demographic groups, with wide support across race, age, gender, and political party affiliation.

Support for reform and a new approach to safety and justice policy is strong even among survivors of violent crimes. The survey, which interviewed 800 crime survivors across the country, included both survivors of non-violent crime and survivors of violent crime including the most serious crimes of rape or murder of a family member.

“More than 2.2 million people are in prisons and jails across the country and the U.S. spends more than 80 billion dollars each year locking people up,” said Robert Rooks, Vice President, Alliance for Safety and Justice. “Yet the findings show that America’s investments in our current criminal justice system do not align with the views of crime victims or meet their needs.”

The survey finds that survivors of crime experience significant challenges in recovery and healing—8 in 10 report experiencing at least one symptom of trauma. The survey found 2 out of 3 survivors did not receive help following the incident, and those who did were far more likely to receive it from family and friends than the criminal justice system.

One in four people have been victimized in the past 10 years, but that impact is not evenly felt across the country. The study finds survivors of crime are more likely to be low-income, young and people of color; furthermore, people with the lowest levels of education, income and economic status are more likely to experience repeat victimization and serious violent crime.

New Safety Priorities

Instead of more spending on incarceration, survivors want a wide range of investments in new safety priorities:

  • By a margin of 15 to 1, victims prefer increased investments in schools and education to more investments in prisons and jails
  • By a margin of 10 to 1, victims prefer increased investments in job creation to more
    investments in prisons and jails
  • By a margin of 7 to 1, victims prefer increased investments in mental health treatment to more investments in prisons and jails
  • By a margin of 7 to 1 victims prefer increased investments in crime prevention and
    programs for at-risk youth to more investments in prisons and jails
  • By a margin of 4 to 1 victims prefer increased investments in drug treatment to more investments in prisons and jails

Everyone agrees

The full report, survivors’ profiles and a video featuring crime survivors are featured at
www.allianceforsafetyandjustice.org.


Alliance for Safety and Justice (ASJ) is a national organization that aims to win new safety priorities in states across the country. ASJ partners with state leaders, advocates and crime survivors to advance policies to replace prison waste with new safety priorities that will help the communities most harmed by crime and violence. Reprinted press release from Alliance for Safety and Justice. 

 

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.

womenin-hijabs

Image Credit: mashable.com

car

Image Credit: facebook.com

whiteagain

Image Credit: facebook.com

 

twitterpost

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.

jeffbuckley

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.

quotesgram-com

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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