It Begins With Each of Us Using Our Voice: Voting as an Extension of Sexual and Domestic Violence Advocacy

Wouldn’t it be great if our elected officials – from Congressional representatives to Commonwealth’s Attorneys and local School Board members – shared in our dream of a Virginia free of violence? A Virginia in which every person not only survives, but has the conditions and opportunities required to fully thrive? Let’s expand the frame of the possible and invest in #radicallyhopefulfutures. We can work towards a vision of a Virginia where our local offices are filled with individuals who understand what it takes and are deeply committed to ending violence together, and our congressional representatives work towards a radically hopeful future every day.

A grayscale photo of a collection of medium-sized buttons with different phrases, including "build thriving communities," "we choose all of us," "pave the way with prevention," and the central focus is on a button with the words, "Fund Prevention."

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

Voting is one way to use your individual voice. By participating in elections (and here in Virginia we have at least one every year) you’re choosing people to represent you and your values. 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. Voting’s like public transportation; there may not be a bus going exactly where you need to be, but you take the bus headed in the right direction to get you as far as you can and then keep going from there. If we don’t exercise this right, we can’t expect anything to change.

Voting’s like public transportation; there may not be a bus going exactly where you need to be, but you take the bus headed in the right direction to get you as far as you can and then keep going from there.

Need more of a reason to vote? The ongoing grassroots mobilizing efforts of groups like New Virginia Majority as well as campaigns like #SurvivorsVote in 2019 provided positive results in the makeup of the Virginia General Assembly, and this in turn impacted new laws regarding voting access, criminal justice reform, reproductive health, raising the minimum wage, and multiple other issues that we have been advocating for at the state level.

Some of the more recent changes to ensure voting access are helpful for us to understand. Here’s a step by step outline of some of those changes and how you can have the most impact this election season:

Step 1: Make sure you’re registered by Tuesday, October 13

  • 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 13 so you can vote in November’s election.
  • If you’re ineligible to vote because of a felony conviction and want to start the process of restoring your voting rights click here.
  • If you’re already registered, be sure to check your voter registration and confirm its accuracy so you don’t have any problems casting your ballot. For example, you may have moved since the last election and need to update your address and identify your new polling place.

Step 2: Make a plan to vote. Tip: there are more options this year!

Once you know you’re registered to vote, make a plan to vote by Election Day (November 3). You may be wondering how voting might look different this year during a global pandemic. Here in Virginia, you now have three different options for voting.

  • Mail-in voting: traditionally known as “absentee voting.” Anyone registered to vote in Virginia is eligible to request an absentee ballot, and can do so here. There will be an option to have your absentee ballot mailed to a different address than the one where you are registered. Once you request your absentee ballot it will be mailed to you a few weeks later. Return it as soon as possible to make sure your voice is heard!
    • *Note: Traditionally, absentee ballots require a witness signature before being returned. If you are unable to safely have a witness present, this requirement is waived.
  • In-person early voting, also known as “in-person absentee voting.” Anyone registered to vote in Virginia is eligible to vote early in person at their local registrar’s office, or other designated early voting location. This begins on September 18, 2020, and goes until October 31, 2020. You can contact your local registrar here to determine your options for in-person early voting.
  • In-person voting at your polling location on November 3. You can confirm your polling place here and polls will be open from 6am-7pm. Virginia no longer requires a photo-ID to vote, but bringing one with you will help get you through the process quickly. Other acceptable forms are your voter registration card, employee-issued photo ID, utility bill, bank statement, or other government document that lists your name and the address where you are registered. If you are unable to bring any of these forms, you may sign a sworn statement confirming you are who you say you are and then cast your ballot.

Step 3: Encourage everyone you know to vote as well!

An image of two mushrooms with red tops, one larger and one smaller, next to each other on top of a black grassy ground with a light wood grain background. At the top are the words, "vote for survival."

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 want to eliminate violence in the long-term and improve interventions for survivors in the short-term, we need to use our voice during elections. We can build a #radicallyhopefulfuture.

One of the tools that can help you do this is our Building Thriving Communities Toolkit. The toolkit includes guides for facilitating community conversations, campaign materials, candidate questionnaires, and strategies that you can use to engage your community and amplify survivor voices in our democratic process. For example, you can encourage others to vote by hanging one these posters in a shared space at your agency and by sharing this handout on why voting matters.

You can also participate in our technical assistance call on the importance of survivors voting. We hope to energize advocates, preventionists, and others in the movement to end violence in Virginia about the importance of building connections between the census, electoral politics, and supporting survivors in our communities. Join us virtually for our voter access call:

The Election is Coming! How to Ensure Voting Access for Survivors
Wednesday, September 9, 2:00 – 3:30 PM Eastern
Sign up for the call on Zoom at: https://bit.ly/votingaccessTAcall

Stay tuned for a call with our partners at New Virginia Majority – registration coming soon

Meredith Smith of New Virginia Majority will discuss a timeline of important dates for voting, options for voting, and information to make sure people experiencing housing instability can vote.

During these unprecedented times of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global uprising in defense of Black lives, and political uncertainty, it is more important than ever that we all do our part to elect candidates who will be supporting us and our communities.


Hannah Cannon is the Building Thriving Communities Intern at the Action Alliance and is a current Masters of Social Work student at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Centering Survivors in Virginia’s Special General Assembly Session

This week, legislators reconvene in Richmond for a special session to address Virginia’s biennial budget, which has been severely impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and to consider policy measures in response to the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent global uprising in defense of Black lives. Many of these measures are being introduced to advance equity, reform policing, and to begin the process of undoing systemic harms related to criminal justice and policing – which have historically and disproportionately impacted Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) and low-income Virginians. 

The movement to end sexual and domestic violence has long worked with the criminal justice system, including police, as one option to respond to violence. Many officers have a history of collaboration with victim advocates in building trauma-informed communities that provide safety and accountability. We acknowledge and value those individual officers who have made significant contributions to bring about change. However, the history and culture of policing in the United States is one that is steeped in self-protection, toxic masculinity, violence, racism, and domination. This has led to institutional responses to violence that are ineffective and unsafe for many victims of sexual and domestic violence and particularly for victims who identify as BIPOC[1]. Our movement’s reliance on police and criminal response interventions show no indication of reducing rates of violence nor do they provide justice for a majority of victims who choose to report[2]. This must change.

As the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance considers proposed legislation, we center the voices and experiences of survivors and rely on our values to guide us. We believe that all people have the right to a life free from sexual and domestic violence and oppression. We believe that violence will not be solved by violence. We believe that sexual and domestic violence are complex problems requiring equally complex and varied solutions.

A drawing of a tree with blue leaves in the center of a circle with drawings of multi-hued faces, fruits, houses, books and a bus on a yellow background. In the center are the words, Imagine a World Where We All Count.
@fwdtogether

This moment offers both a sense of urgency and possibility– a tipping point for change. We are asking Virginia legislators to affirm the following values and support legislation which speaks to those values.

  • Everyone deserves safety and healing.
    • Make meaningful investments in community stability, wellness, and wholeness including healthcare infrastructure, teachers, counselors, and education, as well as affordable and safe housing access for all;
    • Promote widespread adoption of specialized risk assessment tools, like ODARA, which use data to make evidenced-based determinations about bail and bond, pretrial services, and assess risk for future violence, ultimately reducing the risk of intimate partner homicide;
  • Criminalizing survival strategies prolongs trauma. Punishing survivors for engaging in survival strategies, like low-level drug use, panhandling, sex work, and self-defense perpetuates trauma and increases the likelihood that survivors of sexual and domestic violence will become incarcerated.
  • Preventing violence before it starts is not only possible, but it is critical to building healthy futures.
    • Support robust collection and analysis of data on high risk sexual and domestic violence perpetration and intimate partner homicide at the state level can help Virginia better identify which community strategies actually help to prevent severe violence and homicides;
    • Invest in sexual and domestic violence prevention through the newly established state fund will support expansion of violence prevention strategies across Virginia;

Want to make sure your voice is heard? Take action NOW to send a message to your legislators and urge them to center survivors during the special session as they address the COVID pandemic and criminal justice reforms. Or, you can also pick up the phone and give them a quick ring – it takes about two minutes and gets logged as a constituent request/community contact by legislative staff. Your voice really makes a difference – at this moment in time, we have the responsibility and the power to act in service of safety, justice, and healing for all Virginians!


[1] Survived & Punished data: https://survivedandpunished.org/quick-statistics/

[2] U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics: https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/rsarp00.pdf and RAINN Criminal Justice System data: https://www.rainn.org/statistics/criminal-justice-system

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.

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. 

Sexual and Domestic Violence Advocates Urge Administration to Continue to Support Safety and Well-being of Survivors in Midst of COVID-19 and Time of Heightened Risk

Richmond, VA – April 2, 2020 – The Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance joins with the Legal Aid Justice Center’s call to public officials to take aggressive action to protect low-income Virginia residents and communities of color and reiterates the critical importance of ensuring the safety of ALL survivors of sexual assault and intimate partner violence during this public health crisis.  As a result of physical distancing measures designed to support public health, perpetrators have increased access at home to those they harm.  Accordingly, we are seeing an increase in the need for services to survivors.  It is imperative that public officials take urgent action to protect the well-being and safety of survivors.

Even in times of crisis, the justice system must work to ensure the safety of victims of sexual assault and intimate partner violence. Specifically, the Action Alliance makes the following recommendations:

  • As courts consider suspending civil dockets, exceptions for “emergency filings” must include all services needed for victims of sexual assault and intimate partner violence to maintain health, safety, and well-being. This includes civil protective order filings, emergency custody and child support filings, and certain pendente lite filings.
  • As Judges and Magistrates consider releasing people who appear before them to prioritize their health and safety, victim safety must remain a primary consideration. High risk perpetrators of sexual assault or intimate partner violence should not be released without consideration to and planning for the safety and well-being of victims of violence when such release could lead to continued violence or even loss of life and jeopardize community safety.  This is particularly important given the mobility limitations victims now face which create additional barriers to escaping abusive situations.
  • Although missed appearances in court should not result in bench warrants, default judgments are still appropriate in emergency circumstances where a party fails to appear or file a responsive pleading. This includes civil protective orders and emergency custody and support orders where relief is needed to ensure the safety and well-being of victims and their families.
  • Although Judges should authorize suspending the collection of fines, fees, and costs related to court cases, Judges should not suspend orders for family support and financial restitution. Victims and their children are particularly vulnerable to eviction, homelessness, and economic insecurity during this time.  Orders for child or spousal support should continue to be enforced and should not be suspended without an alternative plan in place to ensure the safety and well-being of victims and their families.
  • As law enforcement officers and deputies consider using summons as a last resort, arrests should continue to be made in intimate partner violence and sexual violence situations where necessary to ensure the safety of victims and their families. Officers should not issue mutual arrests or request mutual warrants, particularly during this time where victims are left with few options and may be required to defend themselves.  Officers should continue to consider the factors found in Virginia Code § 19.2-81.3 when determining which person is the predominant physical aggressor when intimate partner violence has occurred
  • Law enforcement officers and Commonwealth Attorneys should consistently enforce protective orders during this time, and, in particular, protective order violations. Priority should be given to preventing firearm access for respondents in protective orders, and, where possible, safe collection of firearms when serving protective orders.  The presence of firearms significantly escalates lethality in sexual assault and intimate partner violence, and this is even more true during this time of national crisis.
  • Like many of our partners, we share concerns about the safety, health, and well-being of Virginians who are incarcerated. We agree that the Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) and  local jails should examine all release processes and mechanisms under their control and consider employing them liberally and expeditiously except in cases where an incarcerated individual poses an ongoing risk to the health and safety of others.  We must insist that officials prioritize safety for survivors of sexual and domestic violence from all communities during this time of limited mobility and access to services. They can do so by applying evidence-based assessments for risk of future violence and by taking steps to invest in community corrections and alternatives to incarceration which seek to increase health and safety while also managing high risk behaviors and risk of recidivism.  At this time when domestic and sexual violence is escalating and access to community support for survivors and families is becoming more limited, it would be reckless to ignore the fact that this violence often repeats and intensifies during times of natural disaster, pandemics, and other crises.

We continue to stand ready to  ensure the safety of survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence while also supporting justice system reforms intended to reverse historical harms committed against low income communities and communities of color As we move forward, the Action Alliance believes in balancing victim safety and offender accountability with our vision for racial and restorative justice.

For survivors and concerned family and friends:

Please know that advocates at the Action Alliance and at local sexual and domestic violence agencies throughout the state are here for you. While Action Alliance staff have moved to working remotely, the Statewide Hotline is operational and continues to be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. If you need support or help with planning for safety:

# # #

About the Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance

The Action Alliance has been Virginia’s leading voice on sexual and domestic violence for nearly 40 years and enhances response and prevention efforts through training, public policy advocacy, public awareness programs, and technical assistance to professionals.

Building Thriving Communities

The 2020 Session of the Virginia General Assembly is off and running—and it is exciting to see an increasingly diverse group of elected leaders consider so many new policy initiatives that have the potential to make Virginia a stronger, healthier and more just Commonwealth for all. In addition to the much publicized, celebrated and long overdue ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, policy leaders are considering measures that would: 

  • Expand access to safe and affordable housing, particularly for those who have faced discrimination in the past, including victims of domestic violence, those with low incomes, and LGBTQ people;  
  • Support workers and promote economic security through increasing the minimum wage, extending the minimum wage to more workers, requiring employers to provide vital forms of leave including paid family and medical leave, and eliminating barriers to safety net programs such as TANF and SNAP for those who rely on those programs when they cannot participate in the workforce; and  
  • Restore agency to all of those who need and benefit from reproductive health services by removing barriers that have been erected in recent years and taking bold steps to protect the reproductive liberty of all Virginians. 

Group of a couple dozen people with arms raised in victory behind a long banner that reads, "Equality of Rights Under the Law Shall Not Be Denied or Abridged by the United States or by Any State on Account of Sex" standing in front of the Virginia State Capitol.The Prevention Institute, a national nonprofit whose mission is to build prevention and health equity into key policies and actions at the federal, state, local, and organizational level to ensure that the places where all people live, work, play and learn foster health, safety and wellbeing, recently published an excellent report on preventing domestic violence. The report describes a trajectory of factors that contribute to high rates of domestic violence and suggests policy initiatives that can counteract those factors.  Three of the most significant contributors to that trajectory toward perpetration of domestic violence are housing insecurity, lack of living wages, and barriers to obtaining health care, including reproductive health care. Imagine what could happen in our communities if these were eliminated! 

Three of the most significant contributors to that trajectory toward perpetration of domestic violence are housing insecurity, lack of living wages, and barriers to obtaining health care, including reproductive health care. Imagine what could happen in our communities if these were eliminated! 

A fourth significant contributing factor is low participation and willingness to act for the common good. One measure of participation and acting for the common good in any community is engagement in the democratic process—working with others to improve your community, using your voice in community forums, and voting.  The 2020 General Assembly will consider numerous bills to make it simpler for individuals to be engaged and act for the common good.  From noexcuse absentee voting to making Election Day a holiday to establishing in our Virginia Constitution that voting is a right for all adults that may not be taken away for any reason—there are many improvements being considered. 

The work of the Action Alliance encompasses not only ensuring effective interventions and protections for victims of sexual and intimate partner violence, but also preventing violence.  One important way that we do this is through building thriving communities where all people can access safe and affordable housing and engage in meaningful and equitably compensated work.  In these communities everyone would have access to the full spectrum of resources needed to be healthy and well, and all people would be valued.  These communities would be sustained by citizens who are engaged with each other and committed to democratic decision-making, protecting and exercising their right to vote.  Consider increasing your engagement during this 2020 General Assembly Session and be a part of bringing us one step closer to future communities where sexual and intimate partner violence might well be a thing of the past.    

Curious to learn more about any of these bills?  You can go the Legislative Information Services website and search by topic to learn more.  Just enter the topic that interests you and the year 2020 for links to bills on that topic.  The Action Alliance will also be providing a report after the Session concludes and the Governor has signed or vetoed most major legislation highlighting new policy that will become law.  You can then be a part of ensuring their effective implementation in your community! 

One important set of bills that we would like you to consider are House Bill 1015 and Senate Bill 297 which establish a new Sexual and Domestic Violence Prevention Fund in Virginia, and their companion budget items which would make $5 million available for prevention initiatives across Virginia.  Reach out to your local Delegate and Senator and let them know how important it is that we invest in prevention now so that future generations of young people have a greater chance to have lifelong relationships that are healthy and safe.

Looking up at a skylight dome of an ornately decorated hall overlaid with text: "Join us for Legislative Advocacy Day, January 29, 2020, 8am-2:30pm, Richmond, VA, with virtual legislative advocacy happening statewide!"

It’s Time for Virginia to Invest in Prevention

The end of the year provides many of us with an opportunity to slow down, to reflect on the events of the past year, and to spend time in deep connection, nurturing our relationships with friends, family, and loved ones. It’s a much-needed respite before we slingshot forward into the new year. And 2020 will undoubtedly be a big year. With a newly elected state legislature and the most diverse House and Senate leadership in the history of Virginia’s General Assembly, we are poised to see a brand-new set of possibilities on the horizon. From strategic investments to reduce the maternal mortality rate for black women to electoral access to firearms legislation to the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, the role of sexual and domestic violence survivors and advocates couldn’t be more important in moving these possibilities forward.

Just like the legislature, our movement to end sexual and domestic violence is ready for change. Over the course of the past two years, members of the Action Alliance have engaged in a series of strategic visioning sessions where they were asked to imagine the world we are working toward: what will the future look like when we have achieved our goals? what do we need to be focus on now to reach that future? The culmination of these sessions is a new vision for the Action Alliance which centers a radically hopeful future where:

  • birds flying among clouds in the dawnall people reach their full potential,
  • relationships are healthy, equitable, nourishing and joyful,
  • government and community institutions are rooted in equity and justice, and
  • our decisions are grounded in considering the benefit to future generations.

On the heels of this work and in the wake of the 2019 elections, the Action Alliance believes that now is the time for Virginia’s policy leaders to invest in the prevention of sexual and domestic violence.

In 2020, we will ask the legislature to establish the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Prevention Program with a budget request of $5 million per year as initial funding. The program will include dedicated staff positions and new grant programs in the Department of Social Services for intimate partner violence prevention and in the Department of Health for sexual violence prevention. Grant programs will support diverse sexual and domestic violence agencies, including culturally-specific programs to provide sustained prevention programming to communities across Virginia.

If you share our vision for a Virginia where we finally see reductions in the rates of intimate partner violence and sexual violence please make your voice heard. Talk to your legislators about the need to invest in sexual and domestic violence prevention NOW. Contacting your legislators is easy – and it becomes even easier when you use our handy Legislative Advocacy Guide – you can reach out via email, pick up the phone, or make contact on Facebook, Twitter, and in some cases, Instagram. You can find contact info for your legislators here.

A new Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Prevention Program will fund vital, evidence-informed activities like:

  • Ongoing school-based and after-school education teaching young people the skills required to build healthy relationships;
  • Education for parents and families – in coordination with Community Services Boards, in-home visitors, and allied professionals – to foster positive parent-child attachment, support developmentally appropriate communication and expression in youth, and build social-emotional learning skills;
  • Training and tools for school administrators, faith leaders, and peers on ways to create healthy, violence-free environments – including recognizing and responding to harmful behaviors that may be risk factors for future violence;
  • The coordination of multi-disciplinary community coalitions that address issues like VA Family-life Education (FLE) instruction, trauma-informed service provision, and community safety and cohesion.

Programs like these are the cornerstones for ensuring community-wide health and resilience—a key factor in preventing future violence. It is time for Virginia to invest in a robust and effective sexual and domestic violence prevention infrastructure. Preventing sexual and domestic violence is a necessary investment now and for our future.

In many ways, Virginia is on the brink of monumental change. But it will take all of us to help craft and guide this change. So here’s what we’re asking you to do:

Looking up at a skylight dome of an ornately decorated hall overlaid with text: "Join us for Legislative Advocacy Day, January 29, 2020, 8am-2:30pm, Richmond, VA, with virtual legislative advocacy happening statewide!"

 

  • Register and join the Action Alliance for Legislative Advocacy Day on Wednesday, January 29th, 2020!  It’s always an amazing experience to see survivors, advocates, and allies roaming the halls of the General Assembly lifting the voices of survivors and advocating for policies that will help prevent violence and ensure conditions where every person has the opportunity to thrive.
  • Talk to your legislators about the need to invest in sexual and domestic violence prevention NOW. Contacting your legislators is easy – and it becomes even easier when you use our handy Legislative Advocacy Guide – you can reach out via email, pick up the phone, or make contact on Facebook, Twitter, and in some cases, Instagram. You can find contact info for your legislators here. The more our policy leaders hear from us about this issue, the more likely they are to take action and make significant investments.
  • Sign up to receive Policy Action Alerts from us. Be the first to hear about our latest Action Alerts, legislative events, and the work we’re doing to create safer and healthier communities for everyone. We promise we won’t spam you, we’ll never share your personal information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

Policy leaders want to hear from you about how investing in prevention, reducing offender access to firearms, expanding access to trauma-informed healthcare for survivors, and other issues that are important to survivors will help to create a Virginia where all families and individuals are safe and cared for! You can see the full list of the Action Alliance’s 2020 legislative priorities here.

We’re excited to work with you to expand the frame of the possible in Virginia in 2020.


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.

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.

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.