Introducing Brooke Taylor, UPLC Coach!

We are excited to welcome Brooke Taylor (they/them) to the Action Alliance staff! Brooke joined us in April as the new UPLC Coach!  

What excites you about the UPLC Program?

The UPLC (Underserved Populations Learning Collaborative) program is exciting for so many reasons! It provides dedicated time for Sexual and Domestic Violence Agencies (SDVAs) to discuss and investigate the ways that we serve marginalized populations within the state. Twenty agencies have been in an intentional process of examining their organizational practices as they relate to reaching communities of survivors that have been historically underserved. The UPLC gives an opportunity for local agencies to skill up together, inspiring deeper regional relationships. The ability to travel across the state and witness the fantastic work that our SDVAs are doing is a real privilege. Virginia is a beautiful state- whether in the hustle and bustle of NOVA, the scenic mountains of the southwest, the beaches and ocean views of the southeast, or the rolling hills of the central region, I always find myself surrounded by breathtaking scenery. Still, my favorite thing about this position is that I get to work with such fantastic comrades at the Action Alliance.

What is your favorite season and why?

Hands down, the answer is Autumn! The temperature is perfect- cool enough that I can walk outside without melting but not yet cold enough for snowstorms. While I can do without the pumpkin spice revolution, I love all the other classic pillars of Autumn: apple cider, Halloween, haunted houses/forests, and of course- SWEATERS! I also happen to think that few things can top the beauty of Autumn in Virginia; the color palette of nature is amazing. Fall serves as the official opening of both cuffing* and Big Boy* seasons, so it is always near and dear to my heart. Lastly, Autumn is the best season for sports lovers as it hosts the sports equinox, a time where the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL all are actively playing games. What more can you ask for?

Autumn in VA

A landscape scene of Fall foliage in Virginia, overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Image source: https://nature.desktopnexus.com/wallpaper/2032883/

Oh yeah, what about the obligatory introduction stuff?

Well, if we must…

I consider myself a social justice advocate above all else. For over a decade, I have worked toward equality for marginalized people who experience discrimination, poverty, incarceration, food insecurity, violence, and unemployment. I enjoy being an active member of the Richmond community and work closely with various organizations, particularly those at the intersection of social justice and faith. I earned a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Howard University and Graduate degrees from The School of Theology at Virginia Union University (MDiv, MACE). I identify as a Black, gay, progressive, non-binary person of faith. Outside of my role with the Action Alliance, I serve as a radio show host with Critiques for the Culture, an organizer for #Campaign4ComfortRVA, a Member Leader with the Richmond chapter of Southerners on New Ground, and a licensed minister with the United Church of Christ. When I have spare time, I enjoy cuddling with my partner and our gray tabby cat, Chimichurri.

Chimichurri

Close-up of Brooke’s cat, Chimichurri, relaxing on the sofa. Courtesy of Brooke Taylor.


*Cuffing season refers to the period of time, annually, where cold temperatures encourage folx to pair up until the spring emerges.

*Big boy season is a colloquial term for the time of year when masculine, larger bodied folx are popular in cuffing situation-ships.

Featured image: photo of Brooke Taylor, on a city street, smiling into the camera. Courtesy Brooke Taylor


Brooke can be reached at btaylor@vsdvalliance.org. Drop Brooke a line and welcome them to the team!

2019 Catalyst Awards: Recognizing Leaders and Innovators in Our Work

The Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance will honor and celebrate thirteen individuals at the 2019 Catalyst Award Ceremony at Emory & Henry College on June 5 as part of a biennial statewide gathering of advocates and activists.

The Catalyst Awards encompass superior work across eight different categories, including both sexual and domestic violence work, and apply to program staff, community leaders, volunteers, and allied professionals. The group of honorees has been selected for their innovative and outstanding contributions to the field. We are delighted to honor these individuals for their exceptional and inspiring work on behalf of survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence and for their extraordinary contributions to the field of sexual and domestic violence.

A “catalyst” is one whose enthusiasm and energy precipitates significant positive change. The Catalyst Awards recognize individuals and/or organizations who have made superior contributions to improving services for survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence and creating a Virginia free of violence.

Pioneer Award

Honors one who was among the first to fight the good fight in order to improve the lives of survivors and ultimately end sexual and/or domestic violence. This lifetime achievement is reserved for someone who has worked in the movement for 20 or more years. 

2019 Pioneer Award Honoree: Kelly McCoy, Radford

Kelly McCoy, a longtime advocate at the Women’s Resource Center of the New River Valley in Radford, started working in the movement 36 years ago. Laura Beth Weaver, Kelly’s nominator for the Pioneer Award, writes, “Kelly has worked multiple positions since coming to the WRC in 1983 as a 17-year old volunteer. She coaches and mentors young volunteers and staff in a way that helps grow our system of support for victims of sexual and domestic violence in the New River Valley. Her steady presence in the shelter, her wisdom with organizational decisions and direction, and her insistence on grace and hope are a catalyst for a greater grace and hope within our community.”


Pathfinder Award

Honors an individual or group who broadens the boundaries of traditional domestic and/or sexual violence work through creative outreach to an underserved population. The nominee demonstrates a commitment to positive change, exceptional activism, and innovation in identifying survivors and providing services in marginalized communities.

2019 Pathfinder Award Honoree: Alex Weathersby, Fredericksburg

Alex Weathersby, of the Rappahannock Council Against Sexual Assault, is being honored for her work to make RCASA’s prevention program more trauma-informed, relevant to youth, and LGBTQ+ supportive. Alex’s anonymous nominator writes, “Alex has opened relationships with our area’s public schools, scout troops, four year university, and community college, along with a halfway house for previously incarcerated youth to spread prevention education efforts to a wider group of youth in our area and to allow them to participate in prevention education from multiple areas of their lives. Last year her prevention/education programs served 2,398 students in middle and high schools across five counties.”


Nexus Award

Honors an individual or agency that has created a high level of cooperation among members of the justice system and/or other systems within a local community. The nominee exemplifies the collaboration and unity of purpose in bringing together diverse individuals and disciplines to create a community that promotes safety for victims and accountability for perpetrators.

2019 Nexus Award Honoree: Brad Pugh, Warren County Sheriff’s Office

Brad Pugh is an investigator with the Warren County Sheriff’s Office. The Laurel Center’s Kelliann Harris, who nominated Brad, says, “Investigator Pugh is not only an advocate for justice in dealing with sexual assault crimes, but a pioneer in organizing and development in Sexual Assault Response Teams. Brad continues to expand his knowledge/skills in trauma-informed services, applying those techniques within the interviewing processes, and encouraging and relaying these trainings to other staff within his department and other community leaders. Whenever there is a task at hand, Brad does not steer away from it. He exemplifies all attributes of a leader to make change happen.”


Purple Ribbon Award

Honors one working specifically in the field of domestic violence for demonstrating exemplary commitment to restoring power and hope to victims who have experienced domestic violence through the provision of direct client services. The nominee excels in advocacy work by promoting empowerment which fosters healing.

2019 Purple Ribbon Award Honoree: Maria Altonen, Richmond

Maria Altonen has cultivated Project Empower in Richmond and transitioned it from a little-known entity into a unique crisis intervention, support, and advocacy team that serves Richmond’s large urban hospital. Utilizing their expansive knowledge of the Richmond area’s sexual and domestic violence agencies, offerings, limitations, and those who work in the field, Maria has developed Project Empower into the tremendous service it is today. Assisting hundreds of victim-survivors in 2018, they afforded those who had been at the most terrifying points in their lives to access shelter, legal assistance, transportation, food, housing, employment, medical and counseling, and the crucial awareness that they were not alone on their journey to recovery. Maria’s anonymous nominator says, “To enter a position in a department that was virtually unheard of and undefined, and create something that is now recognized by Commonwealth’s Attorneys, victim advocates, police officers, and most of the VCU Health system speaks volumes! Maria’s work is not just an asset in our community, but has literally saved lives.”


Teal Ribbon Award
Honors one working specifically in the field of sexual violence for demonstrating exemplary commitment to restoring power and hope to victims who have experienced sexual violence through the provision of direct client services. The nominee excels in advocacy work by promoting empowerment which fosters healing.

2019 Teal Ribbon Award Honoree: Terri Giller, Fredericksburg

Terri Giller is an art therapist who works with survivors of sexual violence at Rappahannock Council Against Sexual Assault in Fredericksburg. Through her nonjudgmental and supportive guidance, she gives survivors the tools to empower and express their own experiences on their terms. Terri’s anonymous nominator writes, “We have had former and current clients run up to our tables at events to tell us how much they loved working with her and how she has given them tools for coping, grounding, expressing, and processing their trauma. Terri also puts so much time into working with individuals and groups, without rushing people into engaging with the parts of themselves they aren’t ready to see. Terri has brought a highly specialized service into our area. Her work has brought many long-term benefits to our clients’ ability to connect and self-express. Many of her clients continue to engage in the arts community of our area after closing out their counseling.”


Blue Ribbon Award
Honors one working with children or adolescents who have witnessed or experienced domestic or sexual violence. The nominee is recognized for demonstrating exemplary commitment to restoring power and hope to young victims through direct client services. The nominee excels in advocacy work by promoting education and empowerment which fosters healing.

2019 Blue Ribbon Award Honoree: Andrew Ehrhard, Rockbridge County Sheriff’s Office

Investigator Andrew Ehrhard is a staunch supporter of the Child Advocacy Center (CAC) in Lexington, trusting and relying on the expertise of allied professionals in the CAC, always conducting his work from a “child first” philosophy. A compassionate ally to children, Andrew makes himself accessible to young survivors and their families so they feel completely supported, rather than alone. Ellen Wheeler of Project Horizon, who nominated Andrew, says, “Andrew also participates in every volunteer training at Project Horizon to ensure that all volunteers are familiar with him and are trauma-informed within the Child Advocacy Center. Andrew is devoted to making the children as comfortable as possible, consistently putting the needs of the children he serves ahead of the investigation. Andrew is a pillar in Project Horizon’s Child Advocacy Center and without his spirit and dedication we could not provide children with trauma-informed investigations.”


Hope Award
Honors an individual or team who has made a significant contribution to the prevention of domestic and/or sexual violence. Nominees will have implemented prevention initiatives that inspire communities to create future generations of healthy, safe, and respectful relationships.

2019 Hope Award Honoree: Chad Lewis, Warsaw

Chad Lewis, a preventionist working at the Haven Shelter in Warsaw, was one of the first people to institute prevention programming within the rural community of the Northern Neck. He helped create a Trauma-Informed Leadership Team, implemented numerous free community trainings, started sex education in Westmoreland County, and implemented the Safe Dates curriculum in Richmond and Northumberland Counties. Dawn Brooks of the Haven, who nominated Chad, says, “Chad not only advocates for the people in the community who have experienced or are at risk of experiencing IPV and SV, but he is also an advocate for individuals within our workplace. He is always thinking about our mission and how we can best prevent not only our clients from dealing with hardship, but also the staff. He brings up the hard conversations with compassion and love and in hopes of changing society.”


Ann Crittenden “Unsung Hero” Award
Honors an individual who works diligently and quietly behind the scenes to do what needs to be done, providing daily support, coordination, or advocacy. The nominee may be an administrator, office staff, advocate and/or volunteer who eschews the limelight, yet shows up consistently, day after day, to keep us moving forward in our efforts to eradicate sexual and intimate partner violence. The award is named in memory of Ann Crittenden, a beloved, hard-working, and loyal member of the Action Alliance staff for over 20 years, who skillfully created the beautiful stained glass catalyst awards for years and passed away in 2017.

2019 Honorees: Act. Honor. Hope. Planning Committee: Betsy Williams, Jodi Leonard, Jennifer Bottoms, Michele Holleran, Zoe Best, Shannon Heady, Claire Sheppard

Betsy, Jodi, Jennifer, Michele, Zoe, Shannon, and Claire, an all-volunteer group of fundraising go-getters, have led the fundraising planning of the Action Alliance’s annual Act. Honor. Hope. Member Celebration Luncheon for the past several years. The Committee’s anonymous nominator writes, “The group has worked tirelessly and relentlessly to support the Action Alliance’s fundraising efforts. Each year their devotion to Act. Honor. Hope. has created an amazing and memorable event. They were instrumental in the awards luncheon selling out for the first time in 2018 and in fact, the 2018 gathering proved to be a record-setting financial success for Act. Honor. Hope. Every committee member sets the bar higher for themselves each year in order to honor the award recipients and establish Act. Honor. Hope. as a major fundraiser. This committee’s dedication and loyalty is evident as they continue to work assiduously behind the scenes to do what needs to be done.”


The Catalyst Awards ceremony will be held on Wednesday June 5, 2019 at Emory & Henry College in Emory, VA as part of the “Cultivate” 2019 Biennial Retreat/Conference. Visit here to learn more and to register by May 20 for the Catalyst Award Dinner and/or the 2019 Cultivate Retreat.

Action Alliance Statement on Governor Northam’s Veto of Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Bills

The VA Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance applauds Governor Ralph Northam’s decision to veto two bills that passed this year’s General Assembly session that supported mandatory minimum sentencing for particular crimes. One of those bills, House Bill 2042, would have created a 60 day mandatory minimum sentence for a second conviction of assault and battery of a family or household member within a 10 year period. While we applaud legislators’ instincts to take crimes of domestic violence seriously and to seek victim safety, we do not believe that mandatory minimums are a real solution that protects victims of domestic violenceIn fact, mandatory minimums are a costly and simplistic tool that serve to remove judicial discretion and disproportionately impact historically marginalized communities while providing little real safety for victims or true accountability for offenders of domestic violence.

“…mandatory minimums are a costly and simplistic tool that serve to remove judicial discretion and disproportionately impact historically marginalized communities while providing little real safety for victims or true accountability for offenders of domestic violence.”

Loss of judicial discretion in sentencing, that takes all of the facts presented in a particular case into account, is one of the strongest arguments against the use of mandatory minimums. The criminal charge of assault and battery against a family or household member does not necessarily take into account a pattern of ongoing behavior that includes a broad range of crimes and offenses designed to exert power and control over an individual. Many victims do fight back in self-defense. Creating a mandatory minimum sentence can land victims of domestic violence in jail and serve to reinforce the control of the abuser.  Many judges understand this and often craft solutions to hold a victim accountable for committing a crime of assault and battery yet allow for options that recognize the broader circumstances, such as referring a victim, who has committed violence in an act of self-defense, to a domestic violence program.

We believe that working to address and change practices and procedures at the community level – such as effective enforcement of protective orders, appropriate law enforcement response to crimes of domestic violence, appropriate charging and prosecution of crimes, and a coordinated community response to this violence – is the work that recognizes the complexities of domestic violence, understands the impacts of trauma on families, and addresses real community solutions to this devastating issue.

The Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance opposes mandatory minimum sentences as a strategy to address domestic violence in the Commonwealth. Putting our resources towards real solutions like strengthening coordination of systems, creating trauma-informed, healing-centered communities, providing services to both victims and offenders that help to strengthen families, and removing guns from convicted abusers and respondents in protective order cases are all strategies that bring about real safety for victims.

In a Perfect World…Reflections on how we should respond to sexual assault allegations made against Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax

Early last month, Dr. Vanessa Tyson came forward to share her story of sexual assault at the hands of Virginia Lieutenant Governor, Justin Fairfax, at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. Days after Dr. Tyson’s statement, Ms. Meredith Watson came forward with a statement that Mr. Fairfax raped her in a “premeditated and aggressive” assault in 2000 when they were both undergraduates at Duke University.

Between this and the racist images in Governor Ralph Northam’s yearbook, the Action Alliance staff, governing body, and members have engaged in hard conversations about our elected leaders and how to respond to revelations of harm they may have committed in the past.

We’ve asked one another  questions like, “What would true accountability look like for each person? What would healing and repair look like for the people most directly affected? How do intersecting oppressions of race and class inform what we do next?”

We published several statements on these questions: a statement about Governor Northam’s yearbook photo, a statement about Lt. Governor Fairfax, followed by a longer call to action that centers the work of building a culture of consent in Virginia.

Building on these important discussions, we’ve asked several Action Alliance members, partners, and supporters to offer their perspectives on what should happen in the wake of the sexual violence allegations made against Lt Governor Fairfax. To frame the conversation, we requested their responses to two questions:

  1. In a perfect world, what should have happened/can still happen now that Dr. Tyson and Ms. Watson have come forward with sexual assault allegations against Virginia’s Lt. Governor?
  2. What is missing from this conversation?

Here’s a small sampling of the voices and perspectives captured by this dialogue.

Our contributors:

Fatima M. Smith, Speaker & Consultant at FMS Speaks, LLC, member of the Action Alliance Training Institute Faculty and Governing Body.

Mike Milnor, Trainer with Justice3D, an organization that educates on issues related to investigating and prosecuting sexual assault, child abuse, and domestic violence cases, and has partnered with the Action Alliance on a variety of educational initiatives.

Raven Dickerson, Chief Programs Officer for Domestic Violence Services at Shelter House, Inc., a community-based program in Northern Virginia that provides housing and advocacy for people who are homeless and/or affected by domestic violence, and member of the Action Alliance Governing Body.


Question 1: In a perfect world, what should have happened/can still happen now that Dr. Tyson and Ms. Watson have come forward with sexual assault allegations against Virginia’s Lt. Governor?

Fatima M. Smith: Action Alliance and many advocates, including myself, have stated that what should happen in response to Dr. Tyson and Ms. Watson is the community starting from a place of belief. This issue is complex because it deals with a black male in power as the perpetrator and a black woman as the victim/survivor. The story is unfolding in the midst of blackface scandals and #muteRKelly and it is another painful reminder that the violence that black women experience is not important. I want society to rally around these black women and say, “we believe you, I see you and I appreciate you sharing your story. ” Let us not get distracted by politics and remember at the core this is about (two) survivors coming forward to share their experience with sexual violence. Instead of asking, “why did it take so long to come forward,” we should be asking, “why does it take us (as a society) so long to believe survivors?” We continuously fail black women in this country when we make the conscious decision to not to believe, not to fight for justice. We see this in the less talked about cases of missing black girls in DC, the school to prison pipeline for black girls, and the police killings of black women.

Mike Milnor: In a perfect world, every sexual assault survivor would feel confident in the response to their situation when deciding whether to report immediately. We however know that is not the case. The point to be made here is that Dr. Tyson is totally normal when it comes to her not disclosing to anyone for years about her assault. She was “triggered” to come out to the Washington Post by her abuser running for public office. When one understands trauma and its effects on the brain this is completely normal. It is difficult to go back and say what “should” have happened in this case. What we can do is go forward with a trauma-informed investigation that begins with a trauma-informed in depth interview of Dr. Tyson. Then if she wishes, an in-depth investigation into what can be corroborated, such as any witnesses she came into contact with immediately after the event, should follow.

 Meredith Watson’s case is also consistent with trauma. She however did immediately disclose to friends and dorm mates and named her abuser. As with Dr. Tyson’s case, a full, trauma -informed investigation beginning with a trauma informed in-depth interview with Ms. Watson is the best practice.

Raven Dickerson: In a perfect world, and I believe in the world we have now, Lt. Governor Fairfax would step down so that the experiences, needs, and voices of survivors can be lifted up into the spotlight that he, and the mention of him, is holding.


Question 2: What is missing from the current conversation?

Fatima M. Smith: I would like to have a conversation about why society is quick to attribute things like sexual maturity and/or hypersexuality to black girls/women who are victims of sexual violence. An examination of why we do not value black women’s lives as a society…this would include a discussion unpacking the impacts of white supremacy which create the jezebel trope and the strong black women trope and how they intersect and create one’s ability to disregard a black woman’s experience.

Mike Milnor: What is missing from this is the opportunity to have a full, non-confrontational conversation with Mr. Fairfax concerning the statements of Dr. Tyson and Ms. Watson. Mr. Fairfax should be offered the same opportunity as the reporting women, to have his statement taken and then investigated and/or corroborated if possible. Once all statements have been given and fully investigated then we stand in the best position to evaluate what steps should be taken.

Raven Dickerson: We are lacking intentional conversation about how survivors healing, health, and well-being are prioritized in seeking accountability. When we are pursuing accountability for someone who has caused harm, especially someone who is a public figure with institutional power, our narratives are absorbed with all the possibilities of how we can process them through our complex systems of judicial judgment and power. We often forget that another world is possible in which we center healing as the purpose of accountability rather than due process and the continuation of harm.  Another world is possible for our survivors, for those who harm, and for all of us.

Thank you to Fatima, Raven, and Mike for their thoughtful contributions to this conversation.


Talking about sexual violence may raise painful memories for you, a friend, or a loved one. If you or someone you know would like to speak with  a trained advocate and find support, here are two Virginia-based resources available 24 hours a day and 365 days a year:

Statewide Hotline at 1.800.838.8238 | Text:  804.793.9999  | Chat

LGBTQ Sexual Assault and Partner Abuse Helpline at 1.866.356.6998  |  Text: 804.793.9999  | Chat


Featured image: https://content.gmu.edu/sites/common/files/rotator-image/Justin_Fairfax.jpg

Justice. Healing. Liberation. 2018

From May 2nd through 4th, in Glen Allen, Virginia, the Action Alliance hosted our Justice. Healing. Liberation. conference for 140 advocates, law enforcement, preventionists, attorneys, case managers, and more. We held 32 workshops presented by over 40 presenters, a panel of 5 incredible storytellers, and 3 inspiring keynotes. Our conference included daily yoga sessions, two passionate performances by the Latin Ballet of Virginia, and a fundraising paint night hosted by Lynn Black from Paint for Good.

“[The conference] opened my eyes to struggles our clients go through and how we can help them cope with it.” -Conference attendee

We began on Wednesday, May 2nd, with a Trauma 101 session that offered our attendees a base understanding of different types of trauma, how trauma manifests, and its impact on the brain and body. Then, we dove into the nitty gritty. Attendees could choose from five different workshops during any time slot throughout the course of the day. Workshops covered topics from supporting human trafficking survivors, to looking at the intersections of trauma, oppression, and racial justice, and walking through a case study of intimate partner violence from the perspective of a law enforcement officer.

jhl pic 1

Arianna Sessoms from James Madison University delivers a workshop about how to integrate racial justice practices into trauma response.

In the evening, the Latin Ballet of Virginia put on a vibrant performance that brought us back together as a group and re-energized us after a long day of learning. Our keynote, Dr. Dawn O’Malley, Fellow at the Child Trauma Academy, taught us about the history of brain science, and how critical the last 20 years of research have been for our understanding of how trauma impacts the brain. We concluded our evening with a dinner reception with distinguished guests, including Attorney General Mark Herring, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Daniel Carey, Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services, Gena Boyle, and Commissioner of the Department of Social Services, Duke Storen.

jhl pic 2

The Latin Ballet of Virginia

Thursday was focused on the power of storytelling, and how telling our stories can be a critical step in the healing process for survivors, as well as a source of inspiration and guidance for those who have experienced similar struggles. We started out with another performance by the Latin Ballet, whose movement and music told stories of hardship and joy. We even had some audience members and Action Alliance staff join them on stage. Then our keynote, John Richardson-Lauve from ChildSavers spoke to us about how telling one’s story after a traumatic event can foster resilience.

“I just LOVED it.  The food was great, the workshops were very informative, the dancing entertainment was a breath of fresh air and the keynote speakers and panel discussion were inspiring.” -Conference attendee

Next, we hosted our “Storytelling as Transformative Justice” panel, with KJ Delgado from the Virginia Anti-Violence Project, Lieutenant Deuntay Diggs with the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office, Gaynell Sherrod from Virginia Commonwealth University, Rodney Lofton of Diversity Richmond, and Lisette Johnson, writer of Shameless Survivors. We were honored to hear these inspiring individuals share their stories, and learned about how stories can change hearts and move minds. The rest of the afternoon was dedicated to workshops focused on survivor stories, both heard and unheard. Participants had the opportunity to view and discuss the documentary Baltimore Rising, look at the intersections of sex education in the United States, and understand the process of fatality reviews in the state of Virginia.

 “The best part of this conference were all the different workshop options and what they brought to the table for learning, growth and discussion.” -Conference attendee

tiffany.jpg

Tiffany Turner-Allen from Ujima: The National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community

The final day of our conference was focused on emerging trends in the field of sexual and domestic violence, and shifting the way we respond to and prevent violence. Our keynote, Tiffany Turner -Allen from Ujima: The National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community, started the day talking about promising practices in “allyship” and her role in life as a truth-teller. This led into our workshop sessions that included topics like “Restorative Justice as a Tool for Healing from Abuse” and “Policing in the 21st Century”. We ended the day with some words of wisdom from our fearless Executive Director, Kristi VanAudenhove, who also happened to be celebrating her birthday the same day. We sang her happy birthday, enjoyed lunch and cake, and said our goodbyes.

jhl-pic-3.jpg

Happy birthday, Kristi!

These three days provided an incredible opportunity to connect, share, and inspire. For everyone who joined us, thank you so much for your energy, stories, and wisdom. We hope that you are able to take these lessons and discussions back to your communities, and we’ll see you in 2019 for our Biennial Retreat!

 


Laurel Winsor is the Events Coordinator at the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Social Justice at James Madison University in December, 2016.

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).

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.

_________________________________________________________________

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

 

For The Last Child

On the first day of October Artemis House Staff began their celebration of Domestic Violence Awareness Month at Northern Virginia PRIDE Festival (NOVA PRIDE). We tabled and mingled, networked and shared cards, and felt the energy and joy of safe spaces. Near the end of my shift at our resource table a blended family stopped to learn more about Artemis House services, and as we began to converse I felt hopeful that I was speaking with “The Last Child.”

picture2In September, at a membership meeting for Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance (Action Alliance) a group of advocates invested in the anti-violence movement were tasked with identifying a “North Star”, a potential guiding statement for Action Alliance work. Though the process was difficult, this gathering of diverse people agreed that what gave us hope when the work makes us weary is the shared idea that we have committed ourselves to creating safe spaces until “the last child” is able to live free of violence and oppression.

Since leaving Richmond I have carried the hope that I am working towards the day of “the last child” with me everywhere. The last child has been to all of the Artemis House staff, Domestic Violence task force, and budget meetings this month. I see them take shape in our monthly review of data and program reports. I look for “the last child” in daily interactions with community partners, friends, loved ones, and strangers. This child reveals their self in the gaps of our data, the conflict and resolution in each meeting, and fellowship with others to remind me that there will be an end to our work.

On that day at NOVA PRIDE I was relieved to find hope in these children while discussing their experiences with violence and their love of Artemis, goddess of fertility and the wilderness. Unknowingly they shared a few truths of what the last child needs from those of us invested in this work: a seat at the table (inclusion); a voice in the dialogue (representation); a safe place for disclosure (accessibility); and unshakable support during post-traumatic growth (advocacy).

“Success is not one more woman in shelter, one more man in jail, one more child in foster care.”  

–Sandra Camacho

Most importantly I was reminded that the last child needs our investment in the anti-violence movement to be extended outside of our typical 9-5 work day. They require that we challenge our privilege in safe places so that they too may be included while maintaining awareness of our differences to increase representation. Though Domestic Violence Awareness Month has ended for this year, Artemis House staff will continue our investment in increasing the awareness and reach of the anti-violence movement until we meet “the last child.”

Raven Dickerson is the Director of Artemis House, a program of Shelter House Inc. Artemis House is Fairfax County’s only 24 hour emergency shelter for victims of domestic and sexual violence, human trafficking, and stalking. For more information on Artemis House services and opportunities to volunteer or donate contact us at (703) 435-4940.

_________________________________________________________________

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

Serving the Incarcerated Individual

Shows like Orange is the New Black, Oz, and Prison Break have communities talking about people’s experiences of being incarcerated.  At some point, the topic of sexual violence comes up, whether it is a joke about how to pick up soap in the shower or protective pairing (when an inmate of higher status offers protection to a less powerful inmate in exchange for goods or services, often nonconsensual sex).

What is available to support people who are incarcerated*?

The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), which was passed in 2003 with unanimous support from both parties in Congress.  (From the Executive Summary ).

“The goal of this rule-making is to prevent, detect, and respond to sexual abuse in confinement facilities… it has been at times dismissed by some as an inevitable—or even deserved—consequence of criminality.  Prison rape can have severe consequences for victims, for the security of correctional facilities, and for the safety and well-being of the communities to which nearly all incarcerated persons will eventually return.”

As Just Detention International proclaims, rape is not part of the penalty.  Everyone deserves to be safe, regardless of their status.  Those who may be struggling with mental illness, survivors of previous sexual abuse, or those who are LGBTQ identified are more vulnerable to violence while incarcerated.

How do people who experience sexual violence access services in Virginia?

If someone is housed at a Virginia Department of Corrections facility, they have the option of reporting any incident to any employee verbally or in writing through a grievance, dialing #55, or writing to the PREA post office box (PO Box 17115, Richmond, VA 23226).

When a person dials #55 they can leave a confidential voicemail for the PREA department or speak to an Action Alliance advocate.  We have protocols in place should someone need immediate in person assistance, for situations such as hospital accompaniment after an assault.  Advocates provide emotional support, information, resources, and referrals.
For local and regional jails in Virginia, many local sexual assault crisis centers have similar arrangements.

What impact do these services have?

There are some unique challenges to providing services to people who are incarcerated.  Their backgrounds, needs, and concerns can be different from those out in the community. Often folks are looking for support from anyone outside of or beyond the systems they engage in on a daily basis. Fear of retaliation from staff or other inmates may prevent someone from disclosing. The stress and conditions of incarceration are traumatizing and may trigger survivors. Folks who have used the PREA hotline or written us have said, “Thank you for making me feel less alone.” and “This is the first time I told someone about what happened when I was locked up twenty years ago.”  Another person specifically called back the PREA hotline to let Action Alliance staff know that “they (the PREA investigator) took my report seriously. I have been moved to a different unit and things are better. Thank you.”

 

Want to learn more about PREA in Virginia? Attend our 2nd Annual PREA summit

Beyond Compliance: Building Trauma-Informed Partnerships

NEW DATE-NOVEMBER 9 – THIS IS A CHANGE FROM NOVEMBER 8. NEW LOCATION-CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA

*Note: As part of an anti-oppression framework, it is important to acknowledge the shift in language, moving away from terms that dehumanize individuals.  From The Marshall Project.  -Bryan Stevenson, Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative puts it this way in his book, Just Mercy: “We’ve institutionalized policies that reduce people to their worst acts and permanently label them ‘criminal,’ ‘murderer,’ ‘rapist,’ ‘thief,’ ‘drug dealer,’ ‘sex offender,’ ‘felon’ — identities they cannot change regardless of the circumstances of their crimes or any improvements they might make in their lives.”

 

Reed Bohn is the Senior Hotline Crisis Services Specialist: Training at the Action Alliance.  He has worked and volunteered for HIV prevention, LGBTQ+ and anti-violence agencies. 

_________________________________________________________________

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

Safety and Justice for All: Inside the Action Alliance’s Unique New Resource to Address Campus Gender-Based Violence

 

All college students have the right to learn and live in an educational environment where they are safe and treated equally. This is the overarching spirit of federal and state legislation governing campus gender-based violence response. It is also a core belief of the Action Alliance. The presence of sexual violence, dating/domestic violence, and stalking threatens this right. Institutional and societal oppressions compound the negative effects of violence on students of color and other marginalized groups.

Over the past 5 years, the Action Alliance has consistently heard from Virginia campuses that they need more resources to effectively address the complex maze of campus gender-based violence regulations. Community Sexual and Domestic Violence Agencies (SDVAs) have said they want to effectively support student survivors and work with campuses on prevention initiatives, but do not always have access to the campus-specific information or resources to do so. Based on these conversations, Action Alliance staff members and I began work on a resource to fulfill those needs. We focused on three specific areas: institution-wide trauma-informed responses, racial justice oriented systems and responses, and concrete examples of institutions that had implemented successful policies and programs.

examples-for-law-enforcement

Safety and Justice for All: Best Practices for Virginia Campuses Addressing Gender-Based Violence is the culmination of this work. As there are already numerous best practices guides and model policies available, we wanted to make a unique contribution to existing resources. Our guide specifically focuses on addressing gender-based violence in trauma-informed and racial justice oriented ways. It is also one of the few guides that includes concrete examples of how institutions and organizations have implemented recommendations. The examples are critical because they help campus and community professionals begin conversations on how to implement the recommendations in their own context.

examples-for-title-ix-coordinators-lower-res

We created two versions of Safety and Justice for All; one general version and one specific to community colleges. The structure of the guides is the same and essence of the recommendations are the same; however, the community college edition addresses the unique context of community colleges. We adapted the wording of several recommendations to address community-college specific concerns and also utilized community college examples whenever possible. To our knowledge, this is the only gender-based violence best practice guide specific to community colleges.

In both guides, we present key recommendations for six groups: administrators; advocates; faculty and other instructional employees; Title IX coordinators and campus disciplinary professionals; campus law enforcement and security officers; and prevention specialists. The guides include information for both campus and community SDVA professionals and highlight the importance of dynamic and mutually beneficial partnerships between campuses and community SDVAs.

Examples for Prevention Specialists-lower res.jpgWhile we designed the guides specifically for Virginia, we believe they can also be useful for campus and community agencies in any state. We hope you find these guides helpful and that they inspire you to keep working for change. Together, we can make sure there is truly safety and justice for all students on our campuses and in our communities.

Jen Underwood wrote Safety and Justice for All: Best Practices for Addressing Campus Gender-Based Violence. She is a campus gender-based violence consultant and is also a PhD student at Virginia Commonwealth University studying campus gender-based violence prevention.

_________________________________________________________________

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