Resource Release: New 2020 Virginia Law

The 2020 General Assembly Session is officially behind us. However, the work of Virginia’s legislators and policy leaders is far from over. As we make our way through a deadly global pandemic and provide ongoing support to the global uprising in defense of Black lives, important decisions about state funding, voter access, healthcare, criminal justice reform, and public safety are still being made every day.

Our work to support survivors and build thriving communities has become infinitely more complex.  Communities are experiencing limited access to resources. Survivors are having to weigh the risks of exposure to Coronavirus versus sheltering in place with their abusers. As a movement, we are grappling with questions like “how can we address harm, accountability, and safety for all?” In all of this, the Action Alliance is working hard to amplify survivors’ voices and advocates’ needs in the policy world and beyond. New resources made available at this time include the #StaySafeVA public awareness campaign, the Rise Fund, and our COVID-19 Response Resources. We encourage you to (as much as possible) stay plugged in, stay hopeful, and know that we are here to help!

Text says "New 2020 Virginia Law: A legal guide for sexual and domestic violence advocates and survivors in Virginia" with background image of the Virginia General Assembly building's entrance.To this end, the NEW 2020 VIRGINIA LAW resource provides a summary of the legislative accomplishments that occurred between January and April and those policy decisions that we expect sexual and domestic violence advocates to be able to count on in a post-pandemic Commonwealth. (A summary document is also available here.) Our field saw several big wins in 2020, including:

  • the initiation of a new sexual and domestic violence state prevention fund,
  • firearms certification for respondents of permanent protective orders,
  • survivor-led housing protections for sexual and domestic violence survivors,
  • policies to increase access to forensic nursing throughout Virginia, and more.

We entered 2020 with a new Democratic majority in the House, Senate, and in the Governor’s mansion – this was the first time in more than 20 years that Democrats had a chance to fully pursue their agenda. As such, there was no shortage of bills filed or hot topics to debate. Legislators introduced 3,001 bills this session with 45% of these passing both chambers and ultimately being signed into law.

Though our work in sexual and domestic violence advocacy and prevention is far from over, we want to pause and celebrate our collective accomplishments and thank you for your steadfast advocacy at the General Assembly (and beyond!).

Without your support, none of our work advocating for survivors in the legislature would be possible. Thank you! Seriously.

For more information on bills of interest, the Action Alliance’s 2020 policy priorities, and news on the upcoming special session in August 2020, see the Public Policy section of the Action Alliance’s website. Additionally, if you would like to access our recorded webinar debriefing the 2020 General Assembly Session featuring guests Adele McClure, Director of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and Dr. Vanessa Walker Harris, Deputy Director of Virginia Health & Human Services, click here. As always, if you have any feedback, questions, or would like to get involved, feel free to drop us a line at policy@vsdvalliance.org.


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.

We Need More Than Words

Book cover with blue skies and white mountains, with words "Something needs to change."With the recent assassinations of Black people at the hands of the police and racists in this country, there have been calls for solidarity and the need for allyship. The assumption is that we are only asking for well-meaning White folks to do more, learn more, and be more active in fighting white supremacy and racism. While this is true, we need more than fight. We need change. We need to be able to be seen as whole free people feeling real emotions inside of a country that was created by white supremacy with the intention of having control over our bodies in life and death. We need to be who we are unapologetically. We need to be represented in spaces that have historically been occupied and controlled by White people and not have our experiences ignored or silenced.

We need change. We need to be able to be seen as whole free people feeling real emotions inside of a country that was created by white supremacy with the intention of having control over our bodies in life and death.

Black people and people of color have not been extended the privileges to enter those spaces and have people acknowledge what is happening to them in this county. We often have to fix our faces, tones of voice, and emotions to get the job done and proceed as if all is well because when we do speak up and out they are seen as trouble makers and then again we are silenced. We want to be able to be angry about how we are consistently impacted by all the racism and frequent microaggressions in our workspaces and the communities we live in. We want to openly mourn seeing the people that look like us killed either by the disproportionate negative impacts that this society has created or by the police that are supposed to “protect” us. We want to be seen in movements that have historically and presently continue to erase our presence and foundational contributions.

In this field of gender violence we collectively have fought for people to have autonomy over their bodies and the end to interpersonal violence. Yet, when it comes to the disproportionate impact on Black and Brown bodies, we have become invisible. We have just now in recent years inside of the mainstream spaces of this movement been bold enough to point out these impacts in words but in actions little has changed. We talk about being here for everyone, but the painful truth is that we are not. This movement has been hypocritical in its actions.

We have just now in recent years inside of the mainstream spaces of this movement been bold enough to point out these impacts in words but in actions little has changed.

The call for allyship is nice and needed but what we really need is for your actions to speak louder than the memes, retweets, shares, and repeating the words of Black people and people of color. We need change in our environments that push us out when we speak up. We need real dialogue that includes us in the “hard” conversations about race. We need you to do more than read books about privilege. We need you to look inside and think about the many ways that your non-action in speaking up about state violence and committing forms of it in the spaces that you frequent are also violent. Yes, we need you to learn AND we need you to change.

One person's hands holding another's hand in support.

To the survivors and advocates that are Black and people of color, we see you, you are whole and are loved.


Cortney Calixte is the Movement and Capacity-Building Director at the Action Alliance. Her main focuses are underserved populations, social justice movements and their intersections with advocacy.

Spotlighting Agencies Supporting Asian American Survivors

This May as part of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the Action Alliance highlights the work of two member agencies offering culturally specific support to Asian and Asian American survivors.  While survivors in Asian communities face some of the same struggles as non-Asian survivors, they also have unique considerations related to cultural norms, language access, and immigration status.

Learn more about Boat People SOS and the Korean Community Services Center of Greater Washington below.

BOAT PEOPLE SOS

1.      Tell us a little about your organization.

Boat People SOS, Inc. (BPSOS) is a national community-based organization with 40 years of experience servicing the Vietnamese American community. Founded in 1980, BPSOS’ mission is to “empower, organize and equip Vietnamese refugees and immigrants in their pursuit of liberty and dignity.” Our population has been predominantly Vietnamese refugees and immigrants, most of whom have a long history of trauma, and often are survivors of domestic violence. During the past 40 years, our national network of branch offices has directly assisted over 120,000 Vietnamese residing in Vietnam, on the high seas as boat people, in refugee camps, and after resettlement to the United States. Our long and successful track record of service to this vulnerable population has elevated our trustworthiness and credibility as an organization with cultural competence and subject matter expertise to serve this population. BPSOS is the only Vietnamese American national organization with a physical presence in six locations in the U.S. and one office in Thailand with a total of 65 staff members and a network totaling hundreds of dedicated volunteers.

Group of about 30 people facing a speaker during a workshop presentation.
Boat People SOS Hosts a Workshop

2.      How do you see the needs of Asian survivors differing from other survivors?

Domestic violence has long been prevalent in the Vietnamese community. The high incidence of domestic violence is compounded by significant barriers faced by survivors when accessing mainstream domestic violence services, including limited English competency, cultural tolerance for abusive behavior and general fear of seeking assistance outside the family network. In the Vietnamese culture, despite the fact that they are the survivors, women are often blamed by their own families for the abuse they suffer. Among many traditional families, abuse by their husbands is viewed as an indication of the woman’s bad character, which brings shame to the entire family. This traditional belief often translates to cultural tolerance for violence against women. For many of the survivors we serve, a lack of understanding of U.S. laws is common and exacerbates the barriers detailed above. For example, survivors who are recent immigrants are generally unaware of their rights under the U.S. legal system, such as their right to self-petition for legal permanent residence under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Moreover, they often fear detention and deportation, especially those who derive their immigration status from their abusive spouses, and this fear often deters these women from seeking assistance and legal recourse. Most survivors don’t have any family members or relatives in the US to help and explain to them what they need to do if they’re physically, sexually, or financially abused. Vietnamese survivors really need case management to explain safety, shelters, protection orders, or separation and divorce. Without devoted and fast supports, survivors may die, commit suicide or get traumatized.

3.      What, if anything, do you want the broader anti-violence community to know or understand about the work you do?

We would want the broader anti-violence community to know and understand that our ultimate goal is to end the cycle of domestic violence among Vietnamese families and to empower and equip survivors to lead self-sufficient, stable, and independent lives for themselves and for their dependents. Our services are very culturally-specific, trauma-informed, free of charge, and strictly voluntary, while protecting confidentiality of client information. Our Communities Against Domestic Violence (CADV) project, started 22 years ago, focused originally on raising community awareness about domestic violence. As a growing number of survivors requested direct services, we gradually built capacity, through long-term case management, to meet the diverse needs of victims, including legal assistance, transitional housing, job placement, financial education, counseling, and social services. With the support of BPSOS’ leadership, in 2012 the CADV management team decided to expand this program to all 6 BPSOS branches nationwide. To date, the CADV Program has assisted over 1,200 Vietnamese and other Asian American survivors of domestic violence across the nation in accessing needed legal and social service assistance. Additionally, over 100 domestic service and legal assistance providers have received our cultural competency trainings.

 4.      How has the COVID pandemic impacted the people you serve?

Since March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has extremely impacted the people we serve.  Our partner, Just Neighbors, could not meet with new DV victims to do intake, and therefore, they could not help our clients to apply for two-year or ten-year green cards. Some ten-year green card applications have been pending and delayed for submission to USCIS because of this pandemic. Many victims lost their jobs, their health insurance, and hopes to solve their family issues. They have been so depressed, stressed, and worried about their green cards that will expire soon in 2020. One of our female survivor’s son of 20 years old could not fly to the US from Vietnam in March 2020 to reunite with his mother who left Vietnam seven years ago to the US (to live with her abusive husband). We have tried our best to assist people as much as we can during this difficult time.

 5.      What statewide policy change(s) would be most beneficial to helping survivors you support?

Survivors always need financial assistance to pay for rent if they need to move out to live separately from their spouses. If the state can allocate some funds to assist survivors with this need, that would be great. We usually just provide any assistance they need (interpretation, translation, referrals, legal, shelter, safety plan, etc.) but we are unable to provide financial assistance which is very important for survivors to quickly move away from the abusers who always curse victims/survivors with threatening words and violent actions.

 6.      What can people do to support your organization and work?

 People can support our organization and work with different ways: (1) Donate or invest in our program; (2) Volunteer to assist our community; (3) Stay informed and spread the word to others. Together, we can advocate successfully for victims and survivors in any fields so that they can rebuild their life with dignity and liberty.

KOREAN COMMUNITY SERVICES CENTER OF GREATER WASHINGTON

1.      Tell us a little about your organization.

KCSC is a one-stop shop non-profit providing social services for the Asian American community. It brings a multidisciplinary approach to Asian Americans and new immigrants through social service, education, advocacy, and development of resources. The Victim Services program aims to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate services in coordination with prevention educators, transitional housing assistants, advocates, and community engagement staff.

2.      How do you see the needs of Asian survivors differing from other survivors?

While domestic violence survivors’ basic needs are similar, what’s particular to Asian survivors are the culturally deep-rooted idea of family unity and the responsibility of holding the family or providing the children an intact family. Asian survivors are deeply related to family-centered and patriarchal cultural values. This sometimes makes it hard to decide the options that they need.  In addition, they don’t know where and how they can get practical help or useful resources because of barriers, such as instability of their legal status, lack of command of English, and lack of connections. Sometimes survivors feel more isolated and depressed without support systems where they can reach out for help when they don’t feel safe at home.

kcscgw-cfc-awareness-event-with-apanet-in-partnership-with-patents-business-units

Tabling to Raise Awareness of KCSC’s Services

3.      What, if anything, do you want the broader anti-violence community to know or understand about the work you do?

KCSC not only provides case management to clients, but also reaches out to other community members to provide DV seminars regarding Asian culture and how to help immigrants survivors from different cultures. We are willing to get connected with other relevant agencies providing similar services and have cross-training, if possible. 

4.      How has the COVID pandemic impacted the people you serve?

The pandemic has impacted clients in many different ways. Many clients’ employment stability was negatively impacted, which spiked the needs for social services and financial assistance. In order to prevent sexual violence and dating violence, close cooperation and engagements with the local community are very important. This type of the education session is more efficient in the setting of in-person gatherings. However, due to COVID-19, it is challenging to do outreach.

5.      What statewide policy change(s) would be most beneficial to helping survivors you support?

Language assistance in the legal system: Clients need equal access to legal services and remedies. For example, adequate communication in any aspect of accessing the legal system from finding an attorney, understanding options, filling out forms, and simply navigating the courthouse.

Immigration status: A good number of my clients depend on their abusive spouses for their immigration status, thus VAWA Self-petition is a pivotal grounding for those clients. Continue to advocate to expedite the VAWA application process.

Housing: Protecting renters’ and homeowners’ rights, especially during COVID-19 would be beneficial to helping survivors have a continuously secure and safe place (See National Housing Law Project).  

6.      What can people do to support your organization and work?

(1) Have the curiosity and be open-minded to the domestic violence issues in the community. Raise awareness and have open conversations about domestic violence in Asian communities. (2) Share information about KCSC through your social media and other connections. (3) Volunteer your time with KCSC. (4) Donate to KCSC.

Interested in learning more about gender-based violence in Asian and Pacific Islander communities? Find resources and reports from the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence. API-GBV has COVID-19 In-Language Resources and Resources for Survivors and Service Providers during COVID-19.

Refusing Invisibility in the Anti-Violence Movement: A Reflection on Holding Multiple Identities as a Survivor and Advocate

For some strange reason I thought in a place where advocates against violence were virtually meeting, there would be a pause and acknowledgment of what is happening in our country to Black people.

I thought that they would take a moment to say not only was the release of Title IX Final Rule document hurtful because of the document itself and the poor choice and timing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, also known as the novel coronavirus, but also because it was released during the week where many Americans watched an innocent young Black man senselessly gunned down by two white men while he was jogging in his own neighborhood.

I thought that there would be a mention of his name, Ahmaud Arbery, a mention of the correlation between sexual violence and racial violence because violence is a form of oppression.  While both issues are valid on their own, there are intersections. When will the sexual and domestic violence movement make the shift to doing this work of advocacy, prevention, and response with a racial justice lens?

Headshot of Fatima Smith in white blouse and navy suit jacket.

Fatima M. Smith

I am a survivor who is also a mother, unapologetically Black, and identifies as a woman whose passion and work are dedicated to ending sexual and intimate partner violence. Yet I continue to feel like my identities are not valued.

The conversation during the town hall was a familiar one that is often had in sexual and intimate partner violence survivor advocacy circles, where the focus is on women.

I found myself struggling to stay focused because I kept thinking about what about those students who identify within the LGBTQ+ community, what about those Black and Brown students, what are the implications for them?

As I told my brain to focus on the meeting speakers, the answers to the aforementioned questions from the speakers was as if all survivors were made equal, but really we’re not.

We’re more than just the acts that are committed against us. We have beautiful pieces of us that make up the whole and I can’t get on board with entities that are going to continue to work in the silo of “only women are sexually assaulted” which is code for “only white middle class college women are sexually assaulted”.

As I tried to move past these feelings, I couldn’t help but think about those trans students who will be misgendered intentionally or unintentionally by respondents’ advisors during cross-examination, or the pressure to have to come out to avoid being misgendered by a respondent’s advisor.

I’m just trying to figure out when do we have discussions about dynamics of power when it comes to sexual assault when the assault occurs between different races and ethnicities? What does it look like to be a Black student who is assaulted by a white student and then to have to not only face one’s perpetrator but also potentially have to be interrogated (or as they like to say “cross-examined”) by a white individual?

The consideration of racial fatigue and that question of trauma-informed care isn’t being discussed on a deeper level because we’re just talking about survivors as a homogeneous entity. But it’s not. We are not.

Fatima Smith stands at a podium testifying before a group of legislators with Senator Jennifer McClellan standing beside her.

Fatima M. Smith testifies before the Virginia General Assembly during the 2020 session.


Fatima M. Smith is a survivor, relentless advocate and founder of FMS Speaks, LLC. She established FMS Speaks as a way to share her passion for anti-violence work, racial justice, and engage folks in dialogue that ignites action for progress. Fatima serves as a member of the Action Alliance’s Governing Body. 

A Brief Reflection on the Intersections between Race, HIV, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity

As a Black and gay male, I understand the urgency of addressing the HIV epidemic that affects me and others within our community. National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, February 7, is a time set aside for us within the Black community to increase HIV education, testing, community involvement, and treatment in an effort to end the HIV epidemic. It is also important to take time to acknowledge distinct barriers to prevention and care that impede efforts ending the HIV epidemic. One such barrier is the unique experience of LGBTQ people in regard to the intersection of HIV/AIDS and domestic abuse.

Power and control wheel

“LGBTQ Relationship Violence” From the National Domestic Violence Hotline

In his article, Just*in Time: HIV & LGBTQ Domestic Violence, Justin B. Terry-Smith voices the struggles of the intersection of HIV/AIDS and domestic abuse. He details a few tactics of abusers: using HIV guilt as a weapon, taking away or controlling access to HIV medication – this control over medication can be for PrEP, nPEP[1], or antiretroviral HIV medications – controlling access to money and other resources, using social media to manipulate and threaten, and creating or magnifying stress and trauma. All of these tactics can make a person’s HIV diagnosis more dangerous for their health. An abuser’s ability to victim-blame, isolate and control by using social media, and regulating HIV medication is amplified for LGBTQ Blacks and African Americans, who at the same time are experiencing racial disparities within the healthcare and domestic violence services systems. Additionally, resources for LGBTQ people are already limited, and an abuser isolating an LGBTQ partner can be especially detrimental for health outcomes.

According to the United States Census Bureau, we lack equity in economics, insurance coverage, and health.

  • Economics: In 2017, the Census Bureau reported the average Black median household income to be $40,165 in comparison to $65,845 for white households. Also in 2017, the Census Bureau reported that 22.9 percent of Blacks in comparison to 9.6 percent of whites were living at the poverty level. Further, in 2017, the unemployment rate for Blacks was found to be twice that of non-Hispanic whites, 9.5 percent and 4.2 percent, respectively.
  • Insurance Coverage: In 2017, the Census Bureau reported 55.5 percent of Blacks in comparison to 75.4 percent of whites used private health insurance. Also in 2017, 43.9 percent of Blacks in comparison to 33.7 percent of whites relied on Medicaid or public health insurance. Lastly, 9.9 percent of Blacks in comparison to 5.9 percent of whites were uninsured.
  • Health: According to Census Bureau projections, the 2015 life expectancies at birth for Blacks is 76.1 years, with 78.9 years for women, and 72.9 years for men. For whites the projected life expectancies is 79.8 years, with 82.0 years for women, and 77.5 years for men. The death rate for African Americans is generally higher than whites for the following: heart diseases, stroke, cancer, asthma, influenza and pneumonia, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and homicide.

“never reported, contracted HIV.” — Gay male, 29, Charlottesville*

The National Domestic Violence Hotline goes even further into the unique mental and physical tactics LGBTQ abusers use to gain power and control, detailing that LGBTQ tactics to gain control are all rooted in homophobia, biphobia, heterosexism, and transphobia. Threatening to “out” a survivor’s sexual orientation or gender identity, denying the survivor’s sexual orientation or gender identity, suggesting the abuse is “deserved” because of the survivor’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and explaining away abuse by upholding the abuse as masculine or some other desirable trait. These mental tactics all serve to isolate the survivor from the LGBTQ community. This is especially damaging for LGBTQ people since there are fewer specific resources for LGBTQ people. Similarly, these tactics can be combined with racism to compound the isolation and damage experienced by the person being abused.

It was a friend. The first gay person I ever knew. I really was reaching out for the first time trying to find a mentor. He was older and I wanted to learn what it was like to be gay in my rural community … but then this [violence] happened.” — Gay queer male, 23, Richmond*

As Black and African American LGBTQ people, we are tasked with managing our health, regardless of HIV status, finding ways to navigate institutions that were not designed with us in mind, stigma that is associated with HIV/AIDS and domestic abuse, and various other societal pressures without much structural or institutional support.

“I didn’t think it was a big deal; it felt normal or not what I thought “domestic violence” was;” –Bisexual female, 20, Richmond*

It is also important to acknowledge and understand the power we have as individuals and as a community to combat stigma accompanying HIV/AIDS and domestic abuse and bring change to existing institutions. Reducing stigma by acknowledging anyone – regardless of gender – can be in an abusive relationship, and that domestic abuse is more than physical abuse; domestic abuse can also be mental abuse and emotional abuse. Stigma reduction also helps in disregarding victim-blaming narratives linked with HIV/AIDS and domestic abuse, respectively. Educating ourselves to understand the circumstances that would lead to a HIV diagnosis or to someone being with an abuser, likewise, helps reduce victim-blaming. For example, understanding that prevention measures such as nPEP and PrEP may not be available due to lack of accessible healthcare options, or unable to access because a person’s abuser is controlling their lives, are two examples of how reducing stigma also reduces victim-blaming.

I believe we as a nation will reach equity in regard to race, gender identity and expression, and sexuality. True equity would mean no one would be able to determine a person’s health outcomes based on their race, gender identity and expression, and/or sexuality. We can and do have the power to combat HIV/AIDS and domestic abuse in all of our communities, across race, LGBTQ identities, and other dimensions.

“I really believe that LGBTQ hate crimes, domestic violence, discrimination and bias are still quite a problem in our time. Since I was involved in a support group for LGBTQ folks (Dignity/Integrity Richmond, now defunct, from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s) I became aware of these issues, particularly LGBTQ domestic violence. All of these issues were occurring then and I am quite sure they continue to occur today. For the most part I think LGBTQ folks are aware of these issues but for the most part I think LGBTQ folks, for whatever their reasons, don’t report them or try to deal with them on their own. This is the reason, I think for surveys like this one and I think it’s a good thing.” — Gay male, 51, Henrico*

You can reach the Virginia Disease Prevention Hotline (Monday-Friday, 8am-5pm) at 1-800-533-4148, where counselors answer questions and provide crisis intervention, referrals, and written educational materials regarding Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs), HIV/AIDS, and Viral Hepatitis. 

If you or someone you know needs help or resources, contact the LGBTQ partner abuse and sexual assault helpline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at 1-866-356-6998. Or, text 804-793-9999 or chat: www.vadata.org/chat

*The quotes in this post come from the Virginia Anti-Violence Project 2008 Survey.

Sources:

The State of Violence in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Communities of Virginia: A Report of the Equality Virginia Education Fund Anti-Violence Project

National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

Just*in Time: HIV & LGBTQ Domestic Violence

Income and Poverty in the United States: 2017

The Black Population: 2010

Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2017

Census Bureau, 2018. 2017 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates

The National Domestic Violence Hotline page on LGBT abuse

[1] Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and non-occupational post-exposure prophylaxis (nPEP) are HIV prevention strategies.  They are medical interventions and public health approaches used to prevent infection. (Learn more about PrEP and nPEP.)


Christian Carr is a Ryland Roane Fellow for the Virginia Department of Health and is currently working alongside Minority Health Consortium to help empower the Richmond, Virginia community.

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.

Rectangle broken into two squares. Left square is a block with yellow in the background and white lettering that says "The Honeycomb Retreat: Art and Activism." The right block is a photo of about ten pieces of art work made with different media and utilizing different colors.

The Honeycomb Retreat: Art and Activism

This past July, the Action Alliance hosted its first ever Honeycomb Retreat, a social justice art and creative expression retreat. We brought together young people ages 17-23 from all around the state to come together to use art as a healing tool and as a form of activism. We framed art as a means to create social change, to envision a world free from intimate partner and sexual violence. With our group of 17 fellows, the participants, we convened with our three artists-in-residence— Hieu, Jackie, and Virginia— who acted as mentors in both art practice and implementing social change, and other activists, organizers, artists, and educators from across the country who facilitated workshops. The retreat was split between free art space and workshops, and the goal was for fellows to use what they learned or discussed in workshops and respond or reflect upon that topic in their art.

The Honeycomb Retreat aimed to connect with young people in Virginia, offer workshops on advocacy, healing and organizing, and build leadership opportunities within our state-wide coalition. The name Honeycomb was inspired by the idea of fractals, a pattern that repeats itself on both the small and large scale, as expressed by adrienne maree brown’s book Emergent Strategy:

What we practice at the small scale sets the patterns for the whole system. Grace [Lee Boggs] articulated it in what might be the most-used quote of my life: Transform yourself to transform the world. This doesnt mean to get lost in the self, but rather to see our own lives and work and relationships as a front line, a first place we can practice justice, liberation, and alignment with each other and the planet.


I was hired to help plan and organize the retreat in February. I was a senior double majoring in English and Art History at the University of Richmond and happened upon the intern listing via a school email. I was drawn in by the vision that the Action Alliance looked toward, a world in which all are free from gender-based violence by using an anti-racist framework. I had never worked in a non-profit and was nervous for what was to come in the following months. Nonetheless, I was excited to see where the retreat could go and how it would impact everyone who would be involved.


Art is an act of problem solving. This is a potent refrain stated by artist-in-residence Hieu Tran and later echoed by countless fellows throughout the retreat. The phrase suggests a refusal of passivity, something that one must engage in, a conscious and thoughtful action that must be done in order to find a solution. Both within the space and outside of the retreat, problem solving was required. The fellows collaborated on banners, prints, sculptures, working to overcome and undo any obstacles that they ran up against in the creative process. In much the same way, the Action Alliance Staff engaged in the same action, albeit not with banners but with planning workshops, space coordination, food donations, and more. All things Honeycomb Retreat were a whirlwind, and staff, fellows, and artists alike were nothing short of busy bees. The weeks and days leading up to it were a flurry of meetings, Target runs, and arts and crafts.


A group photo of 25 people all wearing the same gray t-shirts with a single yellow honeycomb piece posed together in about four rows.

Action Alliance staff, artists-in-residence, and fellows from the 2019 Honeycomb Retreat.

The Saturday before the retreat began, I attended a talk at the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Art) given by Gregory Sholette about the intersection of art and activism as it pertains to institutional critique. He described the practice of institutional critique as bringing visibility to. This resounded deeply as the retreat began and, in practice, we all began to consider what it meant to bind art and activism and what we were hoping to make visible. As it applies to art, activism is two-fold. First, deconstructing both the definition of what art is and what art can be. Second, what it can do.

The goal of the Honeycomb Retreat was to use art not just as healing practice but also as an organizing tool. We wanted to shift the perspective that art only existed in the sphere of self-service, as a remedy to burnout. As the week progressed, I think this shift became visible. One fellow remarked when prompted by the question what is art: It is expression. For freedom. For release. For honesty. For truth. Another stated that it is heritage, resistance, power, struggle, whatever you need it to be in that moment. We were crafting art to be whatever we needed it to be. Our artists-in-residence helped to encourage the idea that art could do something beyond just existing passively without thought. Jackie, Virginia, and Hieu all used their work across mediums such as illustrations, screen printing, or theatre to bring visibility to something. This act of bringing attention was consciously done in the hopes that the viewer on the other end would be moved, motivated, and/or inspired to create change. In a matter of days, the fellows were bringing their dreams of Black mystics, of the imagined tales of Lizzo and Reggie Jr (her trusty snake companion), of living unafraid, to the visual world via canvas, poetry, or paint.

The fellows started art-making timidly on the second day, the first day with partitioned time for art. They worked under the advice of the artists-in-residence, checking in about technique and composition. Some fellows painted a banner that Hieu conceptualized based on a Vietnamese board game. Others used printing blocks made by Jackie, such as a whale on a bicycle or a block declaring They/Them. And as they attended more workshops, on topics such as healthy relationships, sexual healing with plant medicine, and community care, they found what provoked or what moved them to expression. It was like we lit a fire, resulting in everyone trying to create as much as they could as time allowed.


Two people leading a workshop at the Honeycomb Retreat with posters hung on the wall in the background.

Emily Herr (left) and Raelyn Williams (right) facilitate a workshop at the 2019 Honeycomb Retreat.

One of my own sources of worry about the retreat was presenting a workshop. I wore a dress with a bee pattern for bravery, hoping that if I could ornament myself externally in the Honeycomb theme then, hopefully, I could internalize it as well. My workshop was on the history of museums and galleries and how that history is rooted in colonization, imperialism, and white supremacy which in turn shapes the modern-day institution that tokenizes marginalized people. I also had Richmond muralist Emily Herr as a co-facilitator to discuss what it means to create socially-conscious work and exist outside of the museum sphere. We wanted the fellows to learn that they could and should call themselves artist without trepidation. However, if the title felt awkwardly fitted, to still recognize that what they create can be impactful.

On our last day, Friday, after a barbeque out in the blazing midday sun with tabling from local organizations such as the Virginia League for Planned Parenthood, Side by Side, Health Brigade, and the Virginia Student Power Network, we closed with a visioning graphically facilitated by Emily Simons. One of the questions we asked our fellows was: “Based on the different art skills you built and the workshops you participated in this week, what do you want to do next? What are you excited for next? What’s your vision for a world without sexual and intimate partner violence?” and someone responded, Excited to see the change we are going to create. I love the duality in their use of create. Activism and art are both something that one creates out of a need for visibility, a deep desire to see change in the world. I am extremely thankful for the retreat and the ability to connect with so many amazing individuals. The Action Alliance has become a part of my hive and for that I am truly grateful.


Raelyn Williams is an intern at the Action Alliance with a passion for art and social change. 

Take Action to Support Sensible Gun Control

Firearms and domestic violence are a lethal combination. In an average month, 50 women are shot to death by intimate partners in the United States. In Virginia, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner recently reported that 64% of all intimate partner violence homicide victims were killed with a firearm.

Moreover, in a climate where we are seeing spikes in the frequency and lethality of mass shootings, there are alarming connections between mass shootings and gender and race-based violence. According to a recent analysis of F.B.I. data on mass shootings in the U.S. that occurred between 2009 and 2017, offenders of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking accounted for 54% of all mass shooters where the perpetrator also shot a current or former intimate partner or family member.  It is also no coincidence that we are seeing more perpetrators of mass shootings declare their motives as being directly related to white supremacy, xenophobia, and racism.

It’s time for Virginia to act to stop the spread of violence in our homes and our communities. Join us in telling the Virginia Crime Commission that you support survivors and our communities by supporting sensible gun control legislation!

Several people at a rally in front of a building with one young person in the foreground holding a sign that reads, "Kids are the Future Not Guns"

Photo credit: Photo by Natalie Chaney on Unsplash. (People gathered at a rally with one young person in the foreground holding a sign that says, “Kids are the future not guns.”

Following the mass shooting in Virginia Beach in May, Gov. Ralph Northam called a special session of the General Assembly in July to address gun violence. No action was taken at that time, though several bills were referred to the Virginia Crime Commission.

Now, the Virginia Crime Commission is accepting written public comments related to proposed gun legislation until August 20. Comments may be submitted by email to comments@vscc.virginia.gov or by postal mail sent to:

Attn:  Written Comments
Virginia State Crime Commission
1111 East Broad Street, Ste. B036
Richmond, Virginia 23219

The Action Alliance has submitted comment and will make public statements during the upcoming Crime Commission meetings. We encourage local justice-based and survivor advocacy agencies and advocates to do the same. Need some talking points? Check out the Action Alliance’s “2019 Guns and Domestic Violence Fact Sheet.” While facts and figures might be useful to understand the large scope of the problem with firearms, nothing is more powerful than personal stories. If you are comfortable sharing your own story, please include it. Some sample text is provided below.

Sample text:

Dear Members of the Virginia State Crime Commission:

I’m writing to show support for legislation that prohibits the purchase, transport and possession of firearms for persons subject to protective orders and/or who have been convicted of assault and battery of a family or household member. Additionally, I support efforts to give law enforcement officers and prosecutors additional tools to remove or force the surrender of firearms when these conditions are present.

{Insert your own story/context here…for example, “As an advocate for survivors of intimate partner violence, I have heard too many stories in which guns played a significant role in abusive relationships…”}

The assumption and message that guns save lives not only contradicts what we know about the dynamics of sexual and domestic violence, but it also contradicts best available research evidence and public health strategies to prevent violence. Where a history of domestic violence exists, the presence of a gun, regardless of who owns the gun, makes it five times more likely that a woman will be killed—in fact, gun access is the strongest risk factor for victims of domestic violence to be killed by an intimate partner.*

Enough is enough. It’s time for the Virginia General Assembly to take action to protect victims, our families, and our communities. Please support sensible gun control legislation.

Thank you,

{name, address}

*Testimony before US Senate July 30, 2014 Jacquelyn Campbell, PhD, RN, FAAN, Anna D. Wolf Chair and Professor Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing.


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.

Introducing Brooke Taylor, UPLC Coach!

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

What excites you about the UPLC Program?

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

What is your favorite season and why?

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

Autumn in VA

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

Oh yeah, what about the obligatory introduction stuff?

Well, if we must…

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

Chimichurri

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our contributors:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Question 2: What is missing from the current conversation?

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

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

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

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


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

Statewide Hotline at 1.800.838.8238 | Text:  804.793.9999  | Chat

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


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