New Statewide COVID-19 Campaign

FINALIZED_ COVID-19 Website BannerYou may have seen some local articles and stories about increases in sexual and domestic violence calls in Virginia during this pandemic (and here’s one at the national level). We expect that trend to continue as we remain under a “stay-at-home” order in Virginia, and stressors pile up on individuals in the form of job and wage loss, feelings of uncertainty and grief, strains on interpersonal relationships with people/families in close quarters, and more. Many survivors are unaware that, in the wake of COVID-19, sexual and domestic violence programs are still open and available to provide support, or that they can still go to the hospital for medical care after an assault.

The Action Alliance is Virginia’s leading voice on sexual and domestic violence, and we’re launching a statewide awareness campaign to let survivors know that help is still available. The Virginia Statewide Hotline is still here and ready to help, and so are sexual and domestic violence programs all over the state. 

Here are three ways you can help us during this time:

1. You can print and post flyers in your community and/or share resources with essential workers on your routine grocery trip, when you get gas, etc. Here’s how:

In this folder, you will find:

  • A Poster for Grocery Stores and Schools: This resource can be shared at grocery stores, schools, ABC stores, gas stations, restaurants, and any other public place you may visit during this time. This flyer is targeted to survivors and lets them know that support is available to them by calling the Virginia Statewide Hotline.thumbnail
  • A Tip Sheet for Cashiers: Please share this resource with cashiers at grocery stores, schools, ABC stores, gas stations, restaurants, and any other public place you may visit during this time. This sheet helps essential workers identify ways to connect with customers who may be experiencing or causing harm, and provides them with the resources they need to help.

2. You can post on social media about the campaign. Please follow us on Facebook, Instagram (@VSDVAA), and Twitter (@VActionAlliance), and share our posts related to the campaign! When you post on social media, please join us in using the following hashtags: 


3. You can donate to the RISE Fund. This fund was established to enable help local sexual and domestic violence agencies to be more prepared to handle emergent situations such as natural and man-made disasters. To contribute, you can use our online donation page or mail a check to: Action Alliance, 1118 W. Main St. Richmond, VA 23220. For more information about the Rise Fund, see this page.

Thank you for supporting survivors and advocates during this time of heightened risk and uncertainty. We appreciate you!

Nov. 5 is Our Chance to Start Building a Radically Hopeful Future– #SurvivorsVote

The background is a starry, night sky above mountains. Foreground text says, "I support protections for survivors, including living wage, racial justice, sensible gun laws, access to healthcare, safety and justice. I believe in a radically hopeful future and I vote to make it happen. Remember to vote the first Tuesday in November!" Stylized text as logo for Building Thriving Communities: a project of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance.Did you know that all 40 State Senate and 100 House of Delegates seats are up for election this November?

These members of the Virginia General Assembly will make decisions affecting the safety of our schools and communities, our healthcare, the future of Virginia’s economy, including access to livable salaries and wages, and numerous policies affecting survivors of sexual and domestic violence.

Many of us will also have the chance to vote for local school board representatives, members of city councils or boards of supervisors, commonwealth’s attorneys, sheriffs, and other local elected officials who will make policies that shape our day-to-day lives.

Wouldn’t it be great if these elected officials shared in our dream of a Virginia free of violence in which everyone not only survives, but thrives?

Let’s expand the frame of the possible and invest in #radicallyhopeful futures. We can work towards a vision of a Virginia where the seats of the Virginia General Assembly are filled with individuals who understand what it takes and are deeply committed to ending violence together.

We can have a future in which the full humanity and dignity of all people are recognized and embraced; where communities thrive and are sustained by human connection; in which people who are most affected by policies and decisions are at the center of the decision-making and have ample influence and representation to make change happen; and where relationships, families and communities are healthy, equitable, nourishing, and joyful.

So, how do we make this happen? It begins with each of us using our voice.

Our voice as individuals: Our vote, our voice.

Voting is one way to use your individual voice. By participating in elections, you’re choosing people to represent you and your values and voicing your opinion on ballot referenda.  Your vote is your way to tell people who currently hold office, “good job, keep it up!” or “you don’t represent me, I choose someone else.” Of course, not every candidate running for office will share your views on every issue. You’ll have to decide whose vision of the future is most aligned with yours and choose based on what matters most to you.

Not sure if you’re registered to vote in Virginia? Check here. If you’re eligible to vote and are not yet registered, be sure to register by Tuesday, October 15 so you can vote in November’s election. If you’re already registered, be sure to check your voter registration and confirm its accuracy so you don’t have any problems at the polls on Nov. 5. For example, you may have moved since the last election and need to update your address and identify your new polling place.

Once you know you’re registered to vote, make a plan for Election Day (November 5).

The background is a watercolor image of a woman's face with her eyes closed. In the foreground is text that says, "imagine a radically hopeful future and vote to make it happen. Remember to vote the first Tuesday in November!" with stylized text "Building Thriving Communities: a project of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance."

You can also encourage others to vote by hanging one these posters and sharing this handout on why voting matters.

Our voice as advocates: civic engagement is systems-level advocacy

As advocates, we work to ensure survivors are knowledgeable about their options and empowered to make their own choices because they are the experts in their lives. Voting is an extension of this work. If we are to eliminate violence in the long-term and improve interventions for survivors in the short-term, we need to use our voice during elections.  In our unique role as advocates, we have the power to elect legislators who are willing to improve systems to benefit survivors of violence and even prevent violence from happening in the first place.

One powerful tool that can help advocates – and community members –understand how, or if, our elected officials will truly serve survivors is asking critical questions of candidates. Asking questions like “how would you improve survivor access to medical services in the aftermath of trauma?” not only serves to educate our communities and future policy makers on the issues facing survivors but it also serves to help us understand where candidates stand on these issues and how our day-to-day work might be impacted. Here are some questions you can ask candidates.

Looking to do more to build a #radicallyhopeful future? Check out the Building Thriving Communities Toolkit for more information on facilitating community conversations and for materials and strategies that you can use to engage your community and amplify survivor voices in our democratic process.

Jonathan Yglesias is the Policy Director at the Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance where he works with a team of advocates, movement minds, attorneys, and passionate policy nerds to coordinate the Action Alliance’s public policy efforts on behalf of survivors, sexual and domestic violence agencies, and communities in Virginia seeking to improve the prevention of and response to sexual and domestic violence.

Elizabeth Wong is the Coalition Development Director for the Action Alliance. She is committed to building relationships that advance social justice and equality.

I’m Dreaming of a World Where Everyone Feels Safe Outside

Trigger warning: descriptions of street harassment.

“The first time I was catcalled, I was 11-years-old. Every day after school, I walked less than a block away from the bus stop to my house. One day, a man pulled up beside me in his car and rolled down the window and asked how old I was. When I didn’t answer, he told me not to be shy and that he was just having “a little fun”. I remember my heart starting to race – so fast that it felt like it was gargling in my throat.”Faith Brar

In fourth grade and walking by an apartment building. Nine years old and walking with her grandmother. Twelve years old and walking the family dog. Nine years old, walking out of McDonald’s. Six to seven years old, going to a bathroom. Eleven years old and at school.

These are only some women’s stories about the first times they were catcalled. From as young as six years old, children and adults alike are subjected to street harassment every day. In fact, according to two online studies by Stop Street Harassment, at least 99 percent of respondents say they have experienced some form of street harassment — including but not limited to verbal comments, honking, whistling, leering, vulgar gestures, and stalking.

A ubiquitous problem, street harassment is a serious part of rape culture that normalizes unwanted, non-consensual sexual advances. Furthermore, it is a way for harassers to assert their “power and privilege over a public space,” thus further perpetuating a cycle of gender inequality. Street harassment leaves those targeted feeling unsafe, threatened, fearful, humiliated, and violated. And it’s not just the actual harassment itself, but as one writer describes it, “the fear of what might happen next is haunting.”

A little over a year ago, in May 2017, Pussy Division – a feminist activist group – put up “CATCALL CRIME SCENE” yellow tape around Philadelphia as part of a public art installation to raise awareness about street harassment.

“If our tape is inconvenient or annoying, then think of how inconvenient it is being chased by men and too scared to say no because we could get hurt or even killed,” stated Lara Witt, the group’s spokesperson.

Inconvenient is an understatement. According to a large-scale research survey conducted by Hollaback! and Cornell University, 72% of American women[1] reported taking different transportation due to harassment. Globally, the numbers are even worse. More than 76% of Argentinian women reported avoiding an area in their own town or city because of harassment. 80% of German women and more than 88% of Italian women reported taking different routes home because of harassment, 80% of Indian women reported being unwilling to go out at night because of harassment, and 80% of South African women reported changing their clothing because of harassment.

Not only does street harassment intrude into victims’ everyday lives, hindering their freedom and forcing them – instead of the harassers – to sacrifice their comfort and convenience for their safety, but it is psychologically damaging as well. According to a 2008 study of college women, street harassment was significantly related to self-objectification, which has been linked to depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. Another alarming study of 297 undergraduate women found that objectification was associated with decreased sexual assertiveness, which was associated with an increased risk of sexual victimization. This means that frequent harassment can often lead to diminished sexual assertiveness, which can leave people at a higher risk of sexual assault.

Furthermore, unwanted sexual advances such as street harassment can be “insidiously traumatic,” according to a study published in 2014. As one writer stated, “every instance of harassment contains the threat of violence: what if I don’t respond the way the harasser thinks I should? Will he follow me? Will he pull me into his car? What if I see him again when it’s dark, or I’m alone, or he has friends with him?” This constant state of fear that harassment could escalate to assault or other forms of violence can have serious impacts on individuals’ mental health. It is also important to note that street harassment can be triggering for survivors of sexual violence.



Street harassment is often done with a sense of entitlement – entitlement to comment on other people’s appearance and bodies, entitlement that other people and their bodies exist solely for the harasser’s “visual pleasure.” This same sense of entitlement – entitlement to sex, entitlement to someone else’s body – is one that can lead to sexual violence.

This month, France passed a bill that outlaws catcalling and street harassment, making them punishable with on-the-spot fines of up to 750 euros. While extra policing might not necessarily be the answer, as it can lead to unintended consequences that disproportionately harm people of color, it is reassuring to see a nation take street harassment seriously and attempt to put an end to it. There are various other ways to address street harassment, from educating others about its detrimental impacts to using the Hollaback! app to report instances of street harassment and let others know that you’ve “got (their) backs.” Regardless of how each individual chooses to address the issue, what matters is that we keep the conversation going and continue to raise awareness on the prevalence of this problem.

In our fight to end violence and inequality, there is no such thing as an unimportant or “small” issue. Every instance of oppression is one that ultimately feeds into a greater cycle of inequality and violence. If we want to see a world free of violence, that must be a world where threats of violence, objectification, and harassment are not brushed to the side – a world where everyone feels safe to go outside.

[1] The report did not address gender non-conforming individuals.

Featured image source:

Maryum Elnasseh is a rising junior 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 has worked as the Real Story Intern since February, and this is her last post as an intern. We wish Maryum the best as she heads back to school!

Survived and Punished: The story of a 14 year old girl and the system that failed her

Bresha Meadows of Ohio was 14 years old the night she is alleged to have shot and killed her father in what her mother describes as an act of heroism to save the family from his ongoing violence and threats of murder. That was in July 2016; she has been incarcerated ever since awaiting trial.

The system failed her long before that night.

Bresha on bus

Photo provided by Martina Latessa. Photo source: Huffington Post

In the months leading up to the shooting, Bresha’s grades dropped, she ran away from home twice, she told relatives that she was in fear for her life, and that her dad was beating her mom, threatening to kill them all.

In a 2011 petition for a Protective Order, Bresha’s mother, Brandi wrote, “In the 17 years of our marriage he has cut me, broke my ribs, fingers, the blood vessels in my hand, my mouth, blackened my eyes. I believe my nose was broken,” she wrote at the time. “If he finds us, I am 100 percent sure he will kill me and the children.”

Bresha is one of many girls and women of color who have survived and are being punished. Many survivors of domestic and sexual violence are targeted by systems of policing and incarceration, including juvenile and immigration detention, because their survival actions are routinely criminalized.

84% of girls in juvenile detention have experienced family violence.1

When adolescents are arrested for domestic battery, girls were more likely than boys to be defending themselves from abuse by a parent or caregiver.1

Free Bresha Teach-in poster

The Action Alliance, in partnership with the VCU Wellness Resource Center (The Well), and VCU OMSA (Office of Multicultural Student Affairs) will be hosting a #FreeBresha Teach-In this Thursday, April 20, 5:30pm-8pm at the Action Alliance office. Join us as we discuss the criminalization of youth of color, the trauma-to-prison pipeline, and the work being done in Richmond to reduce the incarceration of suffering and traumatized youth.

Rise for Youth has been invited to participate. Confirmed speakers for the #FreeBresha Teach-In include:

  • Fatima M. Smith, Assistant Director for Sexual & Intimate Partner Violence, Stalking, & Advocacy Services and Adjunct Faculty, VCU
  • Reginald Stroble, Assistant Director, Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, VCU
  • Jonathan Yglesias, Prevention & Community Wellness Director, Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance

From 1992 to 2012/2013, girls’ share of arrests increased by 45% and girls’ share of detention increased by 40%. Black girls were almost three times as likely as white girls to be referred to court. Black girls were also 20% more likely than white girls to be in detention, while Native girls were 50% more likely.1

To take action beyond the #FreeBresha Teach-In, here are 5 ways you can help Bresha:

  1. Write to Bresha
  2. Use the #FreeBresha curriculum to spark conversations in your community about trauma and overcriminalization of youth of color.
  3. Organize a #FreeBresha book drive for incarcerated girl and women.
  4. Donate to Bresha and her family via GoFundMe.
  5. Write an open letter to the prosecutors in Bresha’s case.

In Virginia, find out more about amazing groups working to shut down the trauma-to-prison pipeline locally:

  1. Rise for Youth
  2. Legal Aid Justice Center
  3. Performing Statistics
  4. Art180


1 Sherman, Francine T. and Annie Balck, in partnership with The National Crittenton Foundation and the National Women’s Law Center. 2015. “Gender Injustice: System-Level Juvenile Justice Reform for Girls.”

Featured image source: #FreeBresha: A Night of Abolitionist Art & Action, Love and Struggle Photos, @loveandstrugglephotos

RSVP now to the #FreeBresha Teach-In: Overcriminalization of Youth of Color this Thursday, April 20, 5:30pm-8:00pm at the Action Alliance office.

Register now for April 26-27 Building Healthy Futures: Linking Public Health & Activism to Prevent Sexual & Intimate Partner Violence conference, where we will be talking more about the trauma-to-prison pipeline and work being done to shut it down.

Kate McCord is the Movement Strategy & Communications Director for the Action Alliance, a member of the Action Alliance’s Racial Justice Task Force, and has been working in the movement to end gender-based violence for over 25 years. Kate is working with other coalition leaders as part of the Move to End Violence initiative to mobilize against state violence nationally and shut down the trauma-to-prison pipeline in Virginia.

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

Standing With Standing Rock


They say history repeats itself. Unfortunately, the blatant disregard for Native American life and culture is part of our nation’s history. With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, we are reminded of the brutal history behind the holiday through a present-day battle for Native land.

Around this time one year ago the Dakota Access Pipeline or DAPL was approved. It was to be a 1,134 mile-long pipeline to carry oil across multiple states. Originally set to cross through Bismarck, North Dakota, its initial path was rejected after an environmental assessment pointed out that it might endanger the water supply. Citizens of Bismarck, whose population is listed as 92% White on the U.S. census, rejected the pipeline and it was rerouted.

Fast forward to the DAPL’s new route, and a similar concern has been brought forth. This time, the pipeline could threaten the Missouri River, the sole water supply of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. In addition, the construction of the pipeline disrupts and has even destroyed lands sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. However, the rerouting of the pipeline is an option that has not been offered to the tribe. Activist Rev. Jesse Jackson calls the situation “the ripest case of environmental racism I’ve seen in a long time.”

Since the pipeline does not technically run through the reservation, the Sioux Tribe has been shut out of decision-making about the DAPL route. This act, however, is illegal. According to The Atlantic, “Regulations require Federal agencies to consult with Native American tribes when they attach religious and cultural significance to a historic property regardless of the location of that property.” Because Army Corps did not consult the tribe, they are also in danger of violating the Clean Water Act as well as the Environmental Policy Act if the water supply were to ever be contaminated by a break or leak in the pipeline.

Still, the Army Corps fails to hear out the concerns of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. They insist the pipeline is what is best, as it will create construction jobs that will benefit the economy. Just the same as their forefathers did centuries ago, they are attempting to silence indigenous people by projecting their own ideas of what is best for them.

Once again, non-Natives have decided how they will occupy land that remains sacred to Native Americans. Once again this is being done with no regard to the needs or wants of indigenous people. Once again, non-Natives have defended their actions with the assertion that they are doing what is right for the Native community, while neglecting input from the people, themselves, stating otherwise. Unquestionably, water is essential to life. A boost in the economy will mean nothing to a community without a reliable water source. With the tribe’s sole source of water being compromised, Native American tribes and non-Native advocates from all over the United States have gathered at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation to protest the pipeline.


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The peaceful protests began around April of this year and the number of protesters continues to grow. However, over the course of seven months, the peaceful protesters have become targets of militarized counter forces. Shortly after peaceful demonstrations began, the National Guard was sent out to Standing Rock in riot gear in massive numbers. Protestors tell the Huffington Post  “law enforcement is using pepper spray, tear gas and beanbag rounds on [us] and responding to peaceful demonstrations, pipe ceremonies and prayer circles with militarized force.”


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Mass numbers of arrests have been made. Some of the protestors who have been arrested report being kept in chained, netted enclosures similar to dog kennels, and having numbers drawn on their body parts by law enforcement officers.

The chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Dave Archambault Jr., spoke out on the damage being done by both the construction of the pipeline and the law enforcement protecting it, saying, “The oil companies and the government of the United States have failed to respect our sovereign rights. …[They have] knowingly destroyed sacred sites and our ancestral graves with bulldozers. [They have] also used attack dogs to harm individuals who tried to protect our water and sacred sites.”

Some media outlets are choosing to defend the dehumanizing actions of these officers. The New York Times recently published an article that attempted to evoke sympathy for the officers out in Standing Rock. It focused on one officer in particular, Jon Moll. The Times gave details completely unrelated to the pipeline or the protests. It mentioned how Moll grew up as the only White child in his classes and, as the son of farmers, “worked hard for everything [he has].” The irony lies in the fact that after growing up in a diverse environment and seemingly understanding the work that goes into building and keeping up with a community, he is now infringing  on that right of others as he takes away what they too worked hard for. Moll goes on to vilify activists, who he says, in their protesting, have trespassed on federal property. He omits law enforcement’s recent vehicular destruction of sacred Native American burial sites out of his trespassing rant.

Instead of publishing this article defending the initiators of this battle, the Times could have focused on alternatives to the current route of the DAPL.  One such alternative is an oil railway. Railways are already used for the majority of North Dakota’s oil shipment and one was used in the past as an alternative to the Keystone XL Pipeline.


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Though a slightly different method than that used in the past, the construction of this pipeline endangers a mass population of indigenous people. The seriousness of its threats must be understood, and it is time to listen to the people most affected by its construction.

#NoDAPL  #StandwithStandingRock

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.


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



Why Believe?


Credit: Tim Meacham

Have you ever witnessed something so fantastic that you could not accurately describe it to friends or family? Have you thought, “They would not believe this?” Yet, you tell your story anyway. You tell it with vim and vigor, hoping that people believe the unbelievable. Some will believe you and speak to how incredible your story is. Some will not believe, but simply tell you that there has to be some underlying explanation that has not revealed itself. You feel validated by those that believe; and, for those that do not, you still feel accepted and certainly not denigrated. Yet, you desire for all to believe.

I have worked in public safety for almost 30 years. I have heard a lot of amazing stories, and experienced many, many more; some of these stories humorous beyond belief, and some of them tragic beyond comprehension. I know that were I to reduce what I have witnessed and heard to writing, there would be those that do not believe. I accept that. No one wants to believe some of the choices people feel forced to make just to survive. No one wants to believe some of the desperate acts I have witnessed.

As a younger patrol officer, I knew my functions were: 1) answer calls for service (reactive policing); 2) provide high visibility patrol and handle problems as I find them (proactive policing); and, 3) get to know the people living in my patrol area (community policing). In reality, I spent most of my time answering calls for service. That is the nature of the beast for law enforcement. You are supposed to handle a call to some resolution, quickly document your actions and head out to the next call for service. Resolutions were difficult to manage at times. Sometimes I could refer to another agency like Social Services, a counseling center, a church, or another government or non-profit organization. Sometimes I could refer the matter to my department’s Investigative Unit. Whatever the situation, though, I had to handle it and move on.
Even in the small agencies (where there are about 20 officers in the entire department), calls for service can stack up. There were times when I could spend some time working with community members who needed some extra help in navigating the problem, but I was always supposed to “stay in my lane”, which was patrol. Patrol, for almost every police department, is the primary function. When it came to community members reporting serious crimes, I was required to determine if I had enough information to call out one of our detectives. To do this, I quickly asked the: who, what, when, where, how, and why questions. Usually, most patrol officers can go through this information in about ten minutes or less. The thinking behind this efficiency is: 1) I have other calls for service to answer; and, 2) if this crime just happened, we are losing precious time locating the offender by standing around and talking about it.

Crimes that the above mentioned form of questioning fails are crimes of intimate partner violence. Intimate Partner Violence (or IPV) crimes include domestic violence, dating violence, stalking and sexual assault. With these crimes, it is not always as easy as who, what, when, where, how, and why. I have learned through many years and many, many calls for service that survivors of IPV experience a lot of abuse that someone would not be expected to tolerate. The reasons for this tolerance are as varied as the number of survivors. This is not assigning blame to survivors. I mention only to explain that everyone’s experience of abuse is different and people can exist with abuse in their lives for many reasons.

Survivors of IPV have some of the most extraordinary stories to tell. These stories can and will exceed a belief threshold. IPV survivors know their stories are extraordinary. Because a victim of IPV has experienced the extraordinary, the question format of who, what, when, where, how, and why cannot scratch the surface of what happened to them. Because IPV survivors have suffered trauma, they, most likely, cannot tell you everything about who, what, when, where, how, and why; although they want to. When IPV survivors tell this extraordinary story of what happened to them, they want to be believed.

When IPV survivors tell their story, they hear, “Why did you go back to him/her?”; or, “Why did you let it go on this long”; or, “Why did you drink (or get drunk) with him/her?”; or, “Why did you wear those clothes?”; or, “Why didn’t you ______ (call for help, scream, fight back, say, “no”)?” These are the questions they hear from friends and family. The IPV survivor blames themselves more than they blame the offender. The saddest encounter for the IPV survivor, though, is when the police ask those same “why” questions. The people sworn to protect and serve instead blame and denigrate.

I have had uncountable number of people tell me that someone stole something from them. I have had innumerable people tell me that someone broke something that belonged to them. I have had numerous people tell me someone broke into their house. I have had copious amounts of people that someone hit them. I do not ever recall asking those victims if their behavior led to the criminal behavior of their offender. Instead, I have accepted what they said, recorded what they said and applied my authority as appropriately as possible in their situation.
Survivors of intimate partner violence deserve the same respect as other victims of crime. They deserve more compassion and less hurried response. Most of all, survivors of intimate partner violence deserve to be believed. A simple gesture such as talking to them in a place that is safe is a great start. Telling this person that they do not have to convince you that they are telling the truth lets them know, from the start, they will be believed. Instead of asking the: who, what, where, when, how, and why, simply ask them to describe their experience and thank them for trusting you. This response can lead to them feeling validated in telling their story. It is that simple.

Have you ever wanted to be believed when you had an extraordinary story to tell? I have. This is why I Believe.

Tim Meacham is a detective for a Central Virginia university. He is currently assigned to investigate criminal complaints of sexual assault, dating violence and stalking. He has over twenty years of experience in Law Enforcement, beginning his career in 1990. Tim teaches sexual assault investigations for a local prosecutor’s office and the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services.

Tim earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 2009 from Liberty University in Criminal Justice, and earned his Master of Science in Criminal Justice from the University of Cincinnati, in 2011. Tim has worked for a private police department, a municipal police department and campus police department. His training background is in investigations, crime analysis, and accreditation.

Start By Believing is a campaign of End Violence Against Women International


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

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email


Start By Believing

Every two minutes, another American is sexually assaulted, 80% of whom are under the age of 30. Knowing how to respond is critical—a negative response can worsen the trauma and foster an environment where perpetrators face zero consequences for their crimes. Because perpetrators attack an average of six times, one failed response can equal five more victims.- Northern Neck Taskforce

One of the negative factors of surviving sexual assault is the blame that often gets put on survivors by the community. Sexual assault survivors often report that blaming the victim is as traumatic as the rape itself. When a survivor is blamed for the crime against them, they often feel isolated by the very community and providers who should be helping them.

Start by Believing is a public awareness campaign designed by End Violence Against Women International (EVAWI) to change the way we respond to rape and sexual assault in our communities.

stats image by NNTF

Credit: Northern Neck Task Force

This campaign has spread across the United States and beyond. Campaigns are starting up in universities, community programs, law enforcement agencies, local sexual and domestic violence agencies and coalitions.



credit: EVAWI

Campaigns across Virginia:

Central Virginia – The campaign involved collaborating with local campuses, including Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), the University of Richmond, and J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College. At VCU, nearly 50,000 students learned about the campaign through a personal email sent by University President Dr. Michael Rao.

Citizens Against Family Violence – started a local broadcast reaching over 52,000 people to promote Start by Believing.

Doorways for Women and Families – On Wednesday, April 6th, 2016, Doorways for Women and Families is joining the first-ever, global Start by Believing Day.

Northern Neck Sexual Violence Prevention Coalition  – The Northern Neck Sexual Violence Prevention Coalition along with The Haven Shelter & Services, area Sexual Assault Response Teams (SART), law enforcement, community volunteers, and advocates for individuals who have experienced sexual violence will launch a Start by Believing public awareness campaign on April 6th, 2016, as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, across the Northern Neck.


Want to launch a Start By Believing in your area? Go here for instructions and materials.


Carol Olson is the Development Director at the Action Alliance. She was previously the Director of a local rape crisis center. She has continued to engage in community activism through her work with the Alliance and through radio at WRIR 97.3 FM. 


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

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