Ending Child Marriage: A Priority to Ending A Cycle of Violence

Content warning: sexual assault, suicide, physical violence

On May 10, Sudanese courts sentenced a 19-year-old girl to death for defending herself and stabbing her rapist, whom she had been forced to marry at age 16. Although the sentence was overturned over a month later, Noura’s case has prompted international outcry and has further highlighted the need to address child marriage, which about 12 million girls experience each year.

When discussing child marriage, it is imperative to recognize its connection to intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and other forms of abuse and exploitation. According to a UNICEF report, girls who marry in their childhood are more likely to experience intimate partner violence. In fact, girls who get married under the age of 15 are 50% more likely to suffer physical or sexual violence from a partner. Girls Not Brides further reports that ending child marriage would reduce rates of intimate partner violence by more than 10% in Ethiopia, Mozambique, Nigeria, and Uganda.

Additionally, child brides are more likely to describe their first sexual experience as forced – as was the case for Noura. In fact, one study in northern Ethiopia found that 81% of girls who were married at ages 10-19 “described their first sexual experience as against their will.” Likewise, in India, child brides were three times more likely to be raped than those who married later. Other studies have reported that many women who were married young continue to be raped throughout their marriages.

As noted by Global Citizen, child marriage often forces children to be separated from their family and friends and “transferred to (their spouses) like a piece of property.” This can lead to feelings of isolation, depression, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors – all of which are associated with child marriage. Furthermore, child brides are often deprived of their fundamental rights to health, education and safety, have a higher risk of experiencing dangerous complications in pregnancy and childbirth, and are more likely to live in poverty. All of these conditions uphold a cycle of violence against the children, which continues into their adulthoods and oftentimes into the next generation. Child marriage also “ensures that (girls) remain dependent on others all their lives, strips them of their agency, and hands control over their lives to someone else” – therefore systematically disempowering them.

 

Source: https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/GNB-Child-marriage-human-rights-infographic-1200px.jpg

On the contrary, girls who remain with their families and continue their education are able to become financially independent and “engage more fully with society.” In fact, just one extra year of primary education can boost a girl’s future earnings by 15%. Thus, by robbing girls of education and economic opportunities, child marriage forces girls into a cycle of poverty – the very poverty that oftentimes is the reason they were forced into their marriages in the first place.

 

Here in the United States, more than 248,000 children had been married, mostly to adult men, between the years of 2000 and 2010. In Virginia specifically, almost 4,500 children were married from 2004 to 2013. Of these children, 90% were girls, and 90% were married to adults. Virginia records additionally showed brides and grooms as young as 12 years old. Although the minimum age of marriage in most US states is 18, 48 out of 50 states have exceptions that allow children under 18 to get married. Furthermore, in half of those states, there is no minimum age at all below which children cannot get married – despite the fact that the age of consent, across the nation, ranges from 16 to 18 years old.

In 2011 alone, in New York, state data showed that a 14-year-old was wed to a 26-year-old, a 15-year-old to a 28-year-old, another 15-year-old to a 25-year-old, and a yet another 15-year-old to someone aged 35 to 39. Such age differences would typically result in third-degree rape charges, which occurs when a person over the age of 21 has sex with a child under the age of 17, a felony punishable with up to four years in prison. However, a current loophole exempts New York’s statutory rape law from applying to those who engage in sex with juveniles they are married to. As one author wrote in the Houston Chronicle, “marriage provides a sort of get-out-of-jail-free card for perpetrators, while doing nothing to protect the girls.”

Although some may argue that there is not much difference between an 18-year-old’s level of maturity versus a 17-year-old’s, Fraidy Reiss, the founder of the nonprofit Unchained At Last, notes an important distinction. “It’s about legal capacity. In most states, you’re not legally an adult until age 18, meaning you can’t take the legal steps you might need to protect yourself if you are married before then, including getting into a domestic violence shelter, retaining a lawyer, and getting a divorce,” Reiss told Global Citizen. “It puts the lock into wedlock.”

It was not until May 2018 that Delaware became the first US state to ban all child marriage, without exceptions. While several other states are in the process of following suit, there is still considerable – and urgent – work to be done. Girls Not Brides has reported that if child marriage is not reduced, the number of women around the world married as children will reach 1.2 billion by 2050 – “with devastating consequences for the whole world.”

Ending child marriage is a necessary component of ending sexual violence and intimate partner violence. There are many ways to join the movement to end child marriage, such as supporting girls’ education – a powerful tool to empower girls and allow them the opportunity to grow into confident and independent women.  It is also important to recognize that education alone will not end child marriage, as the issue is multifaceted and caused by various factors including gender inequality and poverty. Although the various, overlapping aspects of child marriage can make it harder to eradicate, they also allow for countless opportunities to get involved. Lawmakers can work to close loopholes in laws and policies that leave children vulnerable; teachers and community leaders can learn to recognize signs of child marriage, as well as form trustful relations with children they mentor so that children may feel comfortable seeking help from them if a harmful situation arises; and all concerned individuals can use their voices to call on global leaders and politicians to protect children.

If we work together to tackle child marriage, we can create a world where girls and women are empowered, in charge of their own destinies, and able to live their lives free of violence,” said Mabel van Oranje, the Princess of Orange-Nassau and co-founder of Girls Not Brides. “This is a world that makes all of us better off.”

Featured image source: https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/delaware-child-marriage-ban-us-first/

 


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 is an intern for the Real Story Internship. She hopes to use her voice as a tool to ignite social change.

On The Violence Against Women Act: Ensuring We Don’t Harm Those We Seek to Help

“VAWA has changed the landscape for victims who once suffered in silence. Victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking have been able to access services, and a new generation of families and justice system professionals has come to understand that domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking are crimes that our society will not tolerate.” –  The National Domestic Violence Hotline

The Violence Against Women Act is up for reauthorization in 2018. While helping to establish essential, coordinated responses to sexual and intimate partner violence, some advocates believe VAWA’s affiliation with the criminal legal system has also resulted in unintended consequences that harm survivors. VAWA reauthorization this year offers us an opportunity to create a VAWA that gets us closer to the world we want.

THE GOOD: VAWA PROVIDES MANY IMPORTANT, LIFE-SAVING SERVICES

First established in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has had a lasting impact on survivors of sexual and domestic violence, as well as the communities serving them. The Act has provided life-changing services for the survivors of violence. These services include:

Through these services, VAWA has not only worked to prevent violence through tools such as education, but also played a significant role in easing the burden on survivors. This is exemplified through its housing protections, as well as its ban on states charging rape survivors for forensic sexual assault examinations, among many other provisions.

According to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the rate of IPV against females [1] declined 53% between 1993 and 2008, after the passage of VAWA. Similarly, the IPV rate against males declined 54%. Furthermore, between 1993 and 2007, the number of homicide victims killed by intimate partners fell 29%. Based on data from the National Crime Victimization Survey, between 1993 and 2008, the reported rate of rape or sexual assault against females declined by 70%, and the reported rate of rape or sexual assault against males declined by 36%.

THIS YEAR, VAWA IS DUE FOR REAUTHORIZATION – A PERFECT OPPORTUNITY FOR REVISIONS TO THE ACT

Every five years, VAWA expires; with the last reauthorization of VAWA taking place in 2013, the Act is due for reauthorization this year. Over the past two decades since the initial passage of VAWA, the Act has been successfully reauthorized three times – each time with a set of revisions. VAWA’s first reauthorization took place in 2000 and allowed for additional protections for immigrants who are survivors of violence, a new program for survivors in need of transitional housing, funds for rape prevention and education, and an inclusion of survivors of dating violence. In 2005, VAWA’s reauthorization added programs for indigenous people who are survivors of violence. VAWA’S latest reauthorization, in 2013, added provisions targeting human trafficking, provisions for LGBTQ individuals, and provisions for tribal courts to have jurisdiction over domestic or dating violence offenses committed by non-Native people.

THE BAD: VAWA HAS HAD UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES THAT COULD HARM THE VERY PEOPLE IT SEEKS TO HELP

While VAWA has generally grown more inclusive and comprehensive over the years, it has also had unintended and unfortunate consequences. Passed with the intent to recognize and treat domestic violence as a serious crime rather than a private family matter, VAWA has contributed to the expansion of the role of the criminal legal system in cases of gender-based violence. Furthermore, the Act “encouraged states to adopt mandatory arrest policies that allowed domestic violence cases to move forward without the cooperation of victims.” One of the unintended consequences of such policies is that if police are unable to detect the primary aggressor at the scene of an altercation, they can simply arrest both parties – thus further contributing to additional trauma for victims of violence.

Mandatory arrest policies can also discourage some survivors from reporting domestic violence due to the fear that their partners, who may be the family’s only earner, will be immediately arrested and jailed. This means that domestic violence victims can actually be in even more danger, as they feel unable to seek help. In fact, a Harvard study, which used FBI Supplementary Homicide Reports, found that mandatory arrest laws actually increased intimate partner homicides – thus “harming the very people they seek to help.”

ADVOCATES SUGGEST REALLOCATING MORE FUNDS TO SERVICES FOR SURVIVORS INSTEAD OF INVOLVEMENT IN THE CRIMINAL LEGAL SYSTEM

Many advocates hope the next reauthorization will disconnect VAWA’s funds from its close involvement in a criminal legal system that often marginalizes people of color and breaks up families, thus leaving people more vulnerable to violence. Researchers have noted that VAWA’s connection to the criminal legal system fails to address the actual causes of intimate partner violence (IPV), which are highly correlated with economic distress. Additionally, the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence notes that “lack of employment opportunities, low wages, lack of affordable housing and social supports such as childcare dramatically affect the ability of battered women to escape violence and rebuild their lives.” If VAWA funding devoted to the criminal legal system could instead be reallocated to services – such as transitional housing – that help survivors of IPV leave abusive partners, we would be closer to achieving a victim-centered approach and ensuring that, in our response to violence, we do not promote a cycle of incarceration that ultimately results in more violence.

As we envision the future we hope to live in, we dream up a world where everyone is able to live safely without the threat or fear of domestic and sexual violence. Safety also means a nation where mass incarceration no longer traps more than 2.2 million people behind bars, leaving them and their families vulnerable to economic hardship and more violence. By reauthorizing VAWA this year, and de-carcerating it in the process, we can be one step closer to making this dream a reality.


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 is an intern for the Real Story Internship. She hopes to use her voice as a tool to ignite social change.

[1] The report does not address transgender and gender non-conforming individuals.

Featured image source: http://inamerica.blogs.cnn.com/2013/01/04/debate-over-violence-against-women-act-centers-on-the-vulnerable/

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

On an Unjust Justice System: Innocent Until Proven Poor

Our country’s system of cash bail doesn’t work like you were probably taught. Every year, millions of people are coerced into paying money bail after they’re arrested in order to remain free while their cases are processed. Even though these individuals are still innocent in the eyes of the law, they and their families or communities are forced to pay non-refundable ten percent deposits to for-profit bail bonds companies. Rather than helping to ensure that defendants return to court for future court hearings (a reminder phone call works just as well), the cash bail system fuels mass incarceration and disproportionately impacts Black and low-income communities. 

Oftentimes, young children are fed certain beliefs to give them a basic understanding of how the world works. They are told that doctors make them feel better when they are sick, that prison is where bad people go so they don’t harm others, that their teachers are always to be trusted, that the justice system rights wrongs and makes the world a more just place.

As we grow older, it is imperative that we question the beliefs we were taught and analyze them for ourselves to search for the truth – if any – within them. Today, I ask you to challenge your beliefs about the “justice” system and its accompanying money bail system.

How many people does this affect?

Here in the land of the free, there are 646,000 people locked up in more than 3,000 local jails – of these people, 70 percent have yet to be convicted of a crime and are legally presumed innocent. Who are they, you may ask, and why are they there? According to data from the non-profit, non-partisan Prison Policy Initiative (PPI), fewer than 30 percent of those currently locked up in local jails were arrested for violent crimes. And the reason they are still there? It has a lot to do with the United States’ system of money bail.

Through the money bail system, defendants are required to pay a certain amount of money as a pledged guarantee that they will attend future court hearings. Defendants who are unable to come up with that money, however, can be incarcerated from the time of their arrests until their cases are resolved or dismissed in court – a process that can, sometimes, take up to 10 years. The Pretrial Justice Initiative found that most people detained pretrial will receive “dismissals, no jail time, or a jail sentence less than time served in pretrial detention.” It seems that the “constitutional principle of innocent until proven guilty only really applies to the well off.”

Bail amounts are often equivalent to a full year’s income

According to PPI’s research, which uses Bureau of Justice Statistics data, the median annual income for people in jail, prior to incarceration, was $15,109 – this is less than half (48 percent) of the median for people of similar ages who are not incarcerated. Since those in jail are drastically poorer than non-incarcerated individuals, it is oftentimes extremely difficult for them to pay the required bail amount. In fact, the nationwide median bail amount is almost equivalent to a full year’s income for the typical person unable to meet a bail bond.

Also important to note in these statistics is the fact that Black women had the lowest incomes prior to incarceration. This means that the money bail system especially harms Black women, as they are the least likely to be able to afford their bail amount. Many may have heard the story of Sandra Bland, a Black woman who died in custody in July 2015, after being unable to afford the $515 amount. Sadly, this story is not hers alone. In that same month, five additional Black women died in jails around the country waiting to post bail, the majority on minor shoplifting charges.

The money bail system further disadvantages people of color, as data presented by the Pretrial Justice Institute found that Hispanic men had a 19-percent higher bail than white men, while black men had bail amounts 35 percent higher than white men.

Cash bail often triggers housing, employment and custody crises

The bail system further exacerbates a system of poverty. According to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 71 percent of inmates were employed when they were arrested. As stated in the aforementioned article by Brave New Films, “there is no way to calculate how many of those people will lose their jobs because they can’t afford to bail out and will fail to come to work, or how many will lose their housing as a result of the downward spiral.” Additionally, people can also lose custody of their children during this jail time – thus leaving entire families more vulnerable to violence.

Huge profits for bail bonds corporations; a cycle of poverty for individuals

Like most instances of injustice, this has dire consequences not only on those directly affected, but on family members as well. One practice for families that cannot afford bail is to enter into financial agreements with bail-bonds corporations. A practice that is only present in the United States and the Philippines, these for-profit bail businesses require individuals to pay a non-refundable portion of the total bail amount to a bail-bonds company. Even if there’s no conviction, defendants and their families will never get that money back. Not only do these bail bonds “often leave families paying loan installments and fees even after a case is resolved,” but they can even result in property loss if a house or other asset was selected as collateral.

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Source: Prison Policy Initiative

Jurisdictions that limit or eliminate their use of money bail often have equally high – if not even higher – percentages of people showing up for their court dates.

Cash bail can/should be eliminated

Instead of utilizing the money bail system, which further disadvantages people of color, especially Black women, courts could adopt non-financial forms of release, such as release on own recognizance – in which a person is released “after promising, in writing, to appear in court for all upcoming proceedings.” Additionally, instead of arresting people, police could issue more citations – “orders to appear before a judge on a given date to defend against a stated charge” without having to serve jail time or be subjected to pay money bail. It is also worth noting that jurisdictions that limit or eliminate their use of money bail often have equally high – if not even higher – percentages of people showing up for their court dates.

You can help us TAKE ACTION

As we rethink our own beliefs about money bail, let us not forget those who are currently suffering the consequences of this unjust system. Currently, the Action Alliance is supporting Southerners on New Ground (SONG)’s Black Mamas Bail Out Action – a project to free as many Black women as possible (cis and trans) to bring them home to their families for Mother’s Day. Join us today in supporting this cause and reuniting families for Mother’s Day.

On May 10, the Action Alliance will host, “Getting Our People Free: What is Bail Reform and Why Do We Need It?”. This teach-in will be held 5pm-7pm at the Action Alliance office and is co-sponsored by the Richmond Chapter of Southerners on New Ground. Join us for community, conversation, snacks, and to learn more about how to end money bail.

Cover image source: https://www.injusticewatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/FullSizeRender-1170×889.jpg


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

On Conscious Living: Ending a System of Human Trafficking

Last month, students from around the world participated in my #MyFreedomDay to celebrate freedom and raise awareness about modern-day slavery.

At the Bangalore International School in India, students in the third and fourth grades talked about what freedom means to them.

At the Saint Mary of the Hills school in Argentina, students composed a song about freedom.

At the International School of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, students signed a petition urging governments to take action to help stop modern-day slavery and human rights abuses.

If there’s something we can learn from these concerned students, it’s their care and their desire to raise awareness and take action into bringing about a world of safety and freedom. Though young, they remind us of the innate goodness of humanity, thereby planting the seeds of hope for a better future and inspiring us adults to take action.

When it comes to human trafficking, people sometimes tend to feel detached from the issue. Since – according to their misconceptions – it’s not happening in their backyards, they feel that there isn’t anything they can do about it. That, of course, is not quite true. In fact, since 2007, the National Human Trafficking Hotline has reported 40,200 cases of human trafficking – the majority of which are sex trafficking cases – in the United States. Here in Richmond, Virginia, we are ranked the ninth highest in the country for the most reported cases per capita of human trafficking, according to a report published in 2017 by the National Human Trafficking Hotline. And it’s not just about where it occurs or how close it is to us or how much at risk we personally are; it’s about how we can unknowingly be complicit in a system that upholds human trafficking.

For example, when it comes to commercial sexual exploitation of children, it’s important to recognize how we end up contributing to the problem in our daily lives and what steps we can take to dismantle our own harmful contributions. The solution starts with self-awareness—recognizing our own biases, our own flaws, and where we need to improve on ourselves.

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This diagram shows how various behaviors and other forms of oppression can ultimately lead Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC). Life of Freedom Center: https://www.lofcenter.org

Another way to reduce our indirect, but harmful, impact on this issue is by being conscious consumers who are mindful of what brands or companies we are supporting. According to the United States Department of Labor, there are over 370 line items believed to have been produced by child labor or forced labor. In fact, popular clothing companies such as Adidas, Gap, and H&M were believed to have ties to slave labor, according to an article published in Salon. Sadly, this applies to a long list of companies, ranging from Walmart to Victoria’s Secret to Starbucks – who, through prison slavery, exploit people’s labor for profit just like human trafficking does – to Nestle. The same goes for sex trafficking, as well, which has an estimated 4.5 million victims worldwide. For example, are we conscious of whether we visit and support strip clubs where workers are forced to provide commercial sex to customers? Are we researching to make sure we’re not supporting illicit massage businesses that force human trafficking victims to engage in commercial sex?

As citizens of the world, it is our responsibility to be mindful of which practices and which industries our time and money are supporting and ask ourselves if we are – albeit unintentionally – complicit in contributing to modern-day slavery and human trafficking.

Whether it’s through using methods such as boycotting and buycotting to become more deliberate consumers or by doing our part to raise awareness about human trafficking (like the active students who participated in #MyFreedomDay), there are always ways we can help – if even in the tiniest bit – to end human trafficking. One of the most powerful methods to go about enacting change is by addressing the root of the problem.

Like all forms of oppression, human trafficking is intersectional. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, there are various recurring vulnerabilities among victims of trafficking, especially sex trafficking. For example, immigration status is a recurring vulnerability; strip club networks often target victims of particular cultural or ethnic backgrounds. Those in vulnerable financial situations, such as individuals who have debt or family debts, are often targets for sex trafficking as well.

This pattern is not unique to the United States, of course; the same goes for those targeted for sex trafficking all around the world. In Italy, migrants from Nigeria who come in pursuit of educational and economic equality are highly at risk for sex trafficking. Even in Canada, the indigenous population makes up just 4% of the nation, yet 50% of those trafficked for sex due to a legacy of poverty and racism. However, by empowering individuals from marginalized communities, supporting immigrant and indigenous people’s rights, and continuing to stand up for racial justice, as well as economic justice, we can help prevent more people from falling into human trafficking.

Lastly, it is important to ensure that there are always safe havens for survivors of trafficking and for those who come from marginalized populations at a risk to be trafficked. It’s not just about providing physical places of refuge, but about creating a society that is, at large, a place of security and freedom. It’s about all of us becoming safe havens ourselves, about becoming individuals who use our own privileges and power to bring about a safer and more just world.

Which practices have your time and money supported this week? What have you done today to empower other individuals? And what will you do tomorrow to embody a safe haven within yourself?

Featured image: CNN: https://www.cnn.com/specials/world/myfreedomday


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

The Super Bowl, Suppression, and Survivorship

In the late hours of Sunday, February 4th, and the early hours of the following Monday, the Eagles fans took to the streets of Philadelphia to celebrate their hometown’s first-ever Super Bowl win. A lot happened—cars were flipped, police and civilians were injured, street poles were ripped out of the ground, fires were started, and property was destroyed. What’s even more noticeable, however, is what didn’t happen—authorities did not fire tear gas or shoot at the unruly crowds, police dogs were not brought in, and media outlets did not use rhetoric laced with negative connotation to describe the rioting football fans.

Instead, although the Philadelphia Police Department’s presence was heavy, the city congratulated the Eagles, the mayor—as well as the city’s fire commissioner—encouraged fans to celebrate safely, and the police sergeant said it would be great if fans could go home. While this may seem like the expected and natural response—I mean, police exist to keep citizens safe, after all, right?—it serves a sharp contrast to ways police responded to similar gatherings of large crowds of predominantly people of color.

In fact, that very same morning before the Super Bowl, Minneapolis police arrested people gathered to protest police brutality. While the protest and the celebration riots occurred within 24 hours of each other, responses were strikingly different—especially considering that the Black Lives Matter protest was not harmful to any civilians or property.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case. For years, protests against police brutality, racism, and sexism have garnered violent police responses – even when the protests themselves are peaceful. It appears that outraged responses to people of color protesting are not a matter of public safety, but rather another tactic to suppress the voices of people of color. One needs to look no further than responses to athletes simply kneeling during the National Anthem to protest police brutality to see that even the most peaceful forms of protest by people of color or in support of people of color are still condemned and shut down.

Just as people of color are automatically faced with blame, white folks are almost immediately given the benefit of the doubt for their actions. The large groups of white folk rioting after the Super Bowl were not immediately assumed to be “thugs” or “terrorists”—instead they were thought of as passionate sport fans, perhaps a little overzealous at most.

When people of color and allies are constantly met with more police brutality and racially charged rhetoric by media outlets, and frequent blame, they are robbed of their voices and their opportunities to speak out time and time again. A culture where people of color’s voices are constantly suppressed leaves us with several problems as a society—namely, a cycle of more violence against people of color.

Over time, with white people not being held to the same level of accountability and with people of color silenced, the power scale gets further tipped for the favor of white people. This power difference increases the risk factor for sexual violence and intimate partner violence, as it creates the opportunity for abuse of power. Silencing the voices of people of color when they stand up for justice only makes it even more difficult for people of color who are survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence to speak up about their experiences and receive support. This becomes even more agonizing when the abuser holds more power and is therefore less likely to be held accountable.

As a society, we should strive for a culture of racial equity that holds all individuals to the same degree of accountability and ensures that all voices—especially those of survivors—are heard loud and clear.

Featured image: Getty Images: https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/a15839429/eagles-fans-crisco-poles-fight/


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

 

Stop Honoring Dishonorable Men

Today, January 12, 2018 is recognized in Virginia as “Lee-Jackson Day”–an official state holiday.

Created back in 1889 by Robert E. Lee’s nephew, Lee-Jackson Day was established to honor two Confederate generals from the Civil War, Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Despite many Virginia cities choosing no longer to observe Lee-Jackson Day (including Richmond, Charlottesville, and most recently Blacksburg), Virginia remains the only state in the nation that continues to celebrate this holiday.

The question of whether this remnant of the Confederacy should still be around today is not new, but has become a point of national attention, particularly in the wake of events like the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville this past summer. Statues, schools, and roads all bear the names of men who led the treasonous seceding states in the Civil War. Arguments in favor of keeping these vestiges alive involve the character of men like Lee: “He wasn’t pro-slavery, he just inherited them from his father-in-law!” “He was an amazing war general!” “He was a good and honorable man!”

Recently, I saw statements like these pop up in a different national conversation: #metoo. “He’s not a rapist, he just made a mistake!” “He’s a brilliant athlete/ director/ businessman!” “He’s a nice guy, he’d never hurt a fly!” As survivors of sexual violence and harassment like the Silence Breakers (led by Tarana Burke, and including Ashley Judd, Dana Lewis, etc.) garnered national attention for sharing their stories, many rape-apologists and victim-blamers came out of the woodwork. For every accusation against a specific abuser, I saw a string of comments expressing how implausible it was that Person X could ever do something like that because of their impeccable character, or that it was unfair to besmirch their name and try to rob them of their bright future/career.

silence

The entertainment industry has been central to this wave of silence breaking, especially after the dozens of accusations against Harvey Weinstein hit mainstream news. We saw and heard the stories of many brave individuals who were pressured, coerced, threatened, and forced into things they weren’t comfortable with. And we saw an outpouring of support for these survivors, most recently with Oprah’s powerful speech at the Golden Globes. Her entire speech was beautiful and worth watching (check it out here), but this excerpt felt particularly relevant: “…What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have. And I’m especially proud and inspired by all the women who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories. Each of us in this room are celebrated because of the stories that we tell, and this year we became the story.

 But it’s not just a story affecting the entertainment industry. It’s one that transcends any culture, geography, race, religion, politics, or workplace. So I want tonight to express gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault because they, like my mother, had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue. They’re the women whose names we’ll never know. They are domestic workers and farm workers. They are working in factories and they work in restaurants and they’re in academia, engineering, medicine, and science. They’re part of the world of tech and politics and business. They’re our athletes in the Olympics and they’re our soldiers in the military.”

oprah

If we circle back to Robert E Lee’s history, we see accusations leveled against him as well by brave individuals who spoke up about the injustices they faced knowing it could lead to retaliation. In 1859, Wesley Norris, a man enslaved under Lee’s control in Arlington, Virginia, attempted to escape his enslavement with his cousin and sister but was unfortunately captured. In 1886, Norris testified to the National Anti-Slavery Standard about what transpired when they were returned to Arlington. Norris stated that Lee ordered that he and his cousin receive 50 lashes. As the county constable carried out the order, Norris recalls “Gen. Lee, in the meantime, stood by, and frequently enjoined Williams [the constable] to ‘lay it on well,’ an injunction which he did not fail to heed; not satisfied with simply lacerating our naked flesh, Gen. Lee then ordered the overseer to thoroughly wash our backs with brine, which was done.” Two additional, anonymously published letters corroborated the testimony.

The accounts of this event are well documented. You can read about it here and here.

A black man, an enslaved man, spoke his truth about the violence he endured at Lee’s command, probably knowing full well that the world at large would likely not be empathetic to his case and that he could face retaliation, either in the form of verbal insults or all-out physical assaults. Lee denied the accusations, and those who supported him (or his legacy) ignored or denied Norris’ testimony, choosing instead to focus on the fact that he eventually freed his slaves (when his father in-law’s will legally required him to do so) or that he made a statement in a letter to his wife where he wrote that “slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country” (even though he went on to say that somehow slavery was a greater evil to white people than black people and that “the painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race”).

We’ve seen this pattern for centuries. Men who abuse and assault are praised for their accomplishments, whether they lead a war or are Academy Award-winning filmmakers, and the stories of the victims who suffered at their hands are buried, minimized, or denied. We wouldn’t celebrate a Harvey Weinstein Day, a Woody Allen Day. or a Ben Roethlisberger Day. And we shouldn’t celebrate Lee-Jackson Day.


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.


Featured image source:  https://img.thedailybeast.com/image/upload/c_crop,d_placeholder_euli9k,h_1440,w_2559,x_0,y_0/dpr_2.0/c_limit,w_740/fl_lossy,q_auto/v1505947196/170920-Brasher-robert-e-lee-tease_ohrcpr

Love wins

Love wasn’t on the ballot yesterday in Virginia, or anywhere in the nation. But love was present in our polling places and showed up in the ballot box.

We the people collectively made history yesterday, radiating love as we delivered an emphatic NO to hate, to violence, to racism and misogyny.

Make no mistake: this was not a victory for a party. It was not a victory for politics. Pundits who have been focused on what this means for Democrats and Republicans, who have been counting wins and forecasting seats and talking about how power is going to be divided still don’t get it. There was something else going on.

A new energy is emerging amongst us. It was an outrage to wake up just one year ago to the prospect of a national leader who had been transparent and unabashed about his racism, his sexism, his elitism, and the violence he had perpetrated against women. It was, and still is, untenable that such a person should be embraced by establishment politics and by the majority of white men (and many white women) in this nation as the best possible choice for the highest policy position in the land. It was an outrage; and it was also a clarion call.

We the people answered that call. In particular, people of color, young people, LGBTQ people and women, answered that call. Over this past year we channeled our anger into record numbers of marches, into organizing within faith communities and civic communities, and into educating ourselves.

We fought to restore faith in democracy and the power of the vote. We stepped up in record numbers to run for local and statewide office—because we wanted change, because we wanted incumbents to know that “politics as usual” was not acceptable, because we wanted others in our communities to have a choice.

love sign-white

Many candidates persevered in the face of personal attacks based on racism, homophobia, transphobia, and anti-immigrant sentiments. Most candidates were running for the first time, most didn’t follow the usual scripts for preparing to run for office successfully—and every single one of them was a part of history yesterday, whether they won their particular race or not.

Their candidacies are testaments to their personal resilience and to the resonance of their platforms of justice, fairness, inclusion, equity, and caring for the long-term interests for all of us. In short, love.

We have been acting out of love for ourselves and each other as we organized over this past year, as we encouraged each other to step up and run for office, as we funded campaigns and promoted candidates and filled social media platforms with messages about the importance of voting.

Yesterday love won, and this is just the beginning. We will continue to fight for compassion and justice, for fairness and equity, for abundance and joy, for inclusion and community, and liberation and kindness…because we the people know that all of us deserve nothing less.


Kristi VanAudenhove is the Executive Director of the Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance. 


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

On False Equivalencies and Surviving Domination

Written by The NW Network of Bisexual, Trans, Lesbian & Gay Survivors of Abuse, Seattle, WA. We are grateful to NW Network for creating and sharing this work, and for granting us permission to reprint it.

For many years, the NW Network has talked with our communities about “survivor’s use of violence.” As an organization by and for survivors, we knew this was a crucial silence to break and information our communities desperately needed.

People are often confused when survivors use violence. They want to dismiss survivors who use physical force to survive as “mutual” actors in abuse. This idea asks less of people than recognizing the dynamics of abuse. It asks less than inviting survivors to come out of the shadows and stand in our full humanity–not as objectified victims, but as full, complex humans who want to survive and whose sparks of self-determination, of human will, still smolder despite even the most egregious attempts to extinguish us.

As survivors of battering, rape, bias harassment and violence, police harassment and violence, and all manner of violations by the state, the advocates of the NW Network are all too familiar with people making false equivalencies between abusive acts of intimidation and domination, and attempts to survive that abuse. We see the devastating impact of this erasure within our private lives and in the public square.

We know that survival under conditions of domination is as gritty as it is grace-filled.

[We are] all too familiar with people making false equivalencies between abusive acts of intimidation and domination, and attempts to survive that abuse.

Daily, we talk with survivors who were calculatedly pushed to the breaking point and are now being buried under such false equivalencies. Abusive partners tell survivors, “Look, you’re just the same as me, no one will help you.” The state tells survivors, “The fact that you survived means you couldn’t have been in danger,” or “If you were really afraid, why were you even there in the first place?”

Such false equivalencies are another in a long list of insults to our humanity, of the willful refusal to understand the dynamics of domination and to stand with people fighting against organized attempts to dehumanize and annihilate them.

Of course, sometimes abuse can be subtle, and it can be legitimately hard for friends and family to discern what is happening.  And then sometimes it is the Ku Klux Klan and white nationalists and skin heads and Nazis calling for your annihilation, and the lines are pretty clear cut.

Violent Clashes Erupt at "Unite The Right" Rally In Charlottesville

Getty Images

This week, while neglecting to name Heather Heyer, the social justice activist who was slain by a white nationalist, President Trump stood before our nation and rationalized and asserted tenets of KKK, white nationalist, Neo-Nazi propaganda. You are trying to change history, he said.  You are trying to change culture.

President Trump praised people who took up torches and marched through the streets of Charlottesville chanting violence against Black, Jewish and queer and trans people, calling them “very fine people.” He purposefully and repeatedly insisted that explicitly racist, anti-Jewish, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic actions taken to intimidate and violate communities were the same as actions taken to defend those communities.

The NW Network will continue to stand with survivors in their full humanity. We will not turn away when survivors defend themselves against domination with force.

We take courage from, lift up and stand with the work of Survived and Punished—a group that organizes to free “survivors of domestic and sexual violence whose survival actions have been criminalized.  Some are still in prison, some are confined to their homes, some are languishing in immigration detention, and some live with the threat of incarceration or deportation at any moment.  Some did not make it out of prison alive.”

Our hearts go out to Heather Heyer’s parents, family and comrades and to the Black, Jewish, queer and trans and activist communities of Charlottesville.

And for every survivor who was told “there is blame on all sides,” we see you. We see the lie for what it is, and we are here for you.

Call us if you need us.


The Northwest Network increases our communities’ ability to support the self-determination and safety of bisexual, transgender, lesbian, and gay survivors of abuse through education, organizing and advocacy.  We work within a broad liberation movement dedicated to racial, social & economic justice, equality and respect for all people and the creation of loving, inclusive and accountable communities.  nwnetwork.org 


Feature image: David Brown of Plymouth, Mass., sends a message during a protest Sunday, held in response to a white nationalist rally that spiraled into deadly violence in Charlottesville, Va., the day before. Credit: Steven Senne/AP. Source: NPR. 

#Charlottesville #racialjustice #whitesupremacy #falseequivalencies

In the Wake of Charlottesville: A Message to our Members

As our work week begins, here at the Action Alliance we are pausing to reflect on the violence that was perpetrated by predominantly male, white supremacists in Charlottesville over the weekend. Our hearts go out to our members, friends and colleagues who live and work in Charlottesville, and those who chose to travel from elsewhere in the state to join the counter-protest. You have our love and our compassion as you process and recover from the experience of being the targets of/witnessing hate-filled, identity-based violence. Those of you who work at the Shelter for Help in Emergency and the Sexual Assault Resource Agency are most especially in our hearts as you hold both the trauma of the racial and ethnic violence in your community with the violence that you confront in your work every day.

The images over the weekend of white supremacists shouting angry words, pumping their fists and raising weapons into the air looked far too familiar. In our work to end sexual and domestic violence we know that intimidation and violence are tools used by those who feel entitled to have power over others—especially when that entitlement feels threatened. We also know that there is no more dangerous time than the hours that follow a challenge to that controlling and violent behavior. We all witnessed this phenomenon as we watched one of the white men who had come to perpetrate racial violence intentionally drive a car into a crowd of anti-racists, taking a life and damaging countless more.

Twitter-Sofia Armen

Twitter/Sofia Armen

The lessons tens of thousands of us across the country have learned as we have taken on the work of trying to end sexual and domestic violence provide a filter through which we viewed the events of the weekend. We know that gender-based violence is rooted in oppression—and inseparable in both cause and effect from other forms of identity-based violence, most especially racism. Survivors have taught us that hateful language can sometimes leave deeper scars than physical violence. Perpetrators have taught us that it is not the behavior of their target that leads them to violence, but rather their own deeply held beliefs in their right to use violence to get what they want. Attempting to coordinate a community response has taught us that there is tremendous value in learning from our mistakes—taking the time to do a careful review of system responses when a life is lost to determine how those systems might have acted differently to prevent that loss of life and then making changes in the response.

Most of all we have learned that real power does not come from social status, from access to resources, from controlling others. Real power comes from truth telling. Truth telling about the history of our country, including our great Commonwealth. Truth telling about the origins and the impact of privilege, hate and violence. Truth telling from each of us about the harm that we have experienced—and the harm that we have caused.

…Real power does not come from status…access to resources…or from controlling others. Real power comes from truth telling…equity…and love.

Chip Somodeville-Getty Images

Chip Somodeville/Getty Images

Real power comes with equity. Equity is valuing all beings and all living things—letting go of our hierarchical notions that place some at the top of pyramids while others bear all of weight at the bottom. Equity is leveling the playing field for everyone—and celebrating all who choose to play. Equity is making reparations for harm caused by historical violence, including racism and ethnocentrism. Equity is seeing current injustice and making the changes it demands.

Real power comes from love. Love is compassion for ourselves and others. Love is forgiveness for ourselves and others. Love is naming violence and setting boundaries around behaviors—while holding open the possibility of rejoining the circle. Love is working together to build communities where children and adults can be curious, resilient, joyful, loving human beings able to respect and care for each other.

On behalf of all of us at the Action Alliance, take good care of yourselves and those in your close circle this week. Know that you are loved and the work that you do every day is making a difference. The Action Alliance will continue to work every day to end violence. Today we recommit to building racial justice; among our many efforts, we are partnering with Black Women’s Blueprint, Trans Sistas of Color Project, Black Youth Project (BYP100) and many other statewide groups to sponsor the March for Black Women September 30 in Washington, DC. We will soon be sending out a call for volunteers and support and we hope that you will join us.

In Peace,

The Leadership Team of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance


Featured image source: Democracy Now

#Charlottesville #DefendCville #whitesupremacy #racialjustice


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