Helping Families Create Safe and Nurturing Environments at Home

A guest blog by Ali Faruk, Families Forward Virginia

We all wish things were different. Most of us caregivers, especially those of us with young children, are struggling with our dual roles as caregiver and school teacher. However, we can still create safe, nurturing environments at home for our children.  To keep us and our loved ones safe, we don’t have to burn ourselves out doing a ton of new things. Strong relationships with our children are critical in preventing abuse and surviving these changes together. Below I discuss strategies and tips for success.

Man wearing purple and red shirt catching a boy wearing a red shirt and blue jeans. Photo by Conner Baker on Unsplash.

The first thing we can do is to spend quality time with children. Even short periods of time playing, reading, going outdoors, and talking can bolster children’s sense of safety and security during uncertain or scary times. Stay connected even when physical separation is necessary for safety reasons. Set up times for children to talk to important and trusted adults in their life using online video chats, telephone calls, emails, texts, or letters. Help other adults who are not living with the child (e.g., biological parents, grandparents, child care providers, teachers) and professionals who work with families (e.g., home visitors, parenting programs) maintain connections with the child. Again, this quality time can be facilitated through any number of strategies listed above. Communicate with these adults about the status of the family and child and share any updates, changes, questions and warning signs. These connections are important in helping children feel secure and supported during the pandemic.

Make time for emotional “check-ins” with your kids

Offer opportunities for children to ask questions, talk about their feelings, and receive age-appropriate information and support. When listening to, and talking with, children, build their resilience by stressing what they CAN do. Children can take care of themselves, their family, and their friends. Share stories of hope and resilience such as people helping each other or animals. This narrative provides an important counterbalance to negativity and fear about the pandemic. Make it a point to share something positive every day with your child.  

Validate feelings

Parent holding and consoling a child. Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash.

The pandemic has disrupted important parts of our children’s lives. Important milestones and traditions such as graduations, sports activities, social functions, and much more, have been cancelled or drastically limited. Acknowledge your children’s disappointments and validate their feelings. Problem-solve if there are ways to honor the missed opportunity later or in a different way. Find creative ways to honor milestones such as having family members make physical cards or notes commemorating a graduation or share videos of friends dancing to the same song.

Parents, especially those with young children, are under a lot of stress. Our children are also under stress. Model and teach stress management and relaxation skills to help your children cope with this pandemic. Support your children’s regulation skills by helping them manage difficult feelings. Build routines and rituals that help children relieve and manage stress such as some form of exercise/movement, quiet time, or deep breathing/meditation. 

To adapt to the pandemic, many children and youth are spending more time online. Children are turning to gaming and social media to maintain social connections with friends and family. Schools are heavily leaning into virtual learning. Spending so much time online means cyberbullying is an increased threat. Checking in often with your child is also an important way to protect them from participating in, or being the victim of, cyberbullying. Children often don’t tell their parents or family members that they’re experiencing cyberbullying because they’re afraid of having their access to the internet limited. Sometimes they are using social media accounts that parents have expressly limited or forbidden, thereby making it even harder to open up about the negative things they’re experiencing online.  

Why does cyberbullying happen? How can parents protect their children?

We’re all trying to teach children and youth how to make good decisions, however good judgment is something that children won’t fully develop until age 25 or so. The excerpt below is from the University of Rochester Medical Center health encyclopedia:

“…research has found that adult and teen brains work differently. Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part. This is the part of the brain that responds to situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences. Teens process information with the amygdala. This is the emotional part.

In teen’s brains, the connections between the emotional part of the brain and the decision-making center are still developing—and not always at the same rate. That’s why when teens have overwhelming emotional input, they can’t explain later what they were thinking. They weren’t thinking as much as they were feeling.”

  • It’s normal and appropriate to place limits on screen time and access to social media for your child.
  • It’s appropriate for parents, who have decided to allow their children to use social media, to set up the accounts with their children, know their passwords, and check in on them occasionally.
  • Be transparent and honest with your children about why you are doing this and what the limits are.
  • Your children, especially adolescents, may not like these limits and that is ok.

For parents of children who have lots of friends and make friends easily, encourage your child to stand up for children who are bullied. They should also tell teachers or other trusted adults about cyberbullying. If your child is outgoing, then you can ask them about checking in with their friends who may seem sad and withdrawn. During one of your regular check-ins, ask your child, “You’ve mentioned that one of your friends is being really quiet lately. I wonder what would happen if you asked her what’s going on?”

If your child happens to be a victim of bullying, identify a safe adult who the child can talk to when they’re being bullied. To make it easier for the child to ask for help or feel safe, you can work out a system where, without drawing attention to themselves, they can be excused to leave and talk to a trusted adult.

  • Talk to your child’s teacher about specific recommendations.
  • Model for your children exactly what you want them to learn about being in a conflict situation.
  • Work as a team with your child’s teacher and school.
  • Get your child involved in cooperative, team-based activities.

Having just one friendship can protect children from the long-term negative impacts of bullying. As I mentioned at the very beginning of this post, supportive relationships are absolutely critical to protecting children. Spending time with our kids, helping them connect regularly with other trusted adults and peers is more important now than ever. Ask for help if these things are not resolving the bullying or other issues you’re experiencing as the caregiver. Mental health professionals can provide parents and youth with additional tools. With a little creativity, trial and error, and love, your family can support healthy and nurturing relationships at home.


Photo of Ali Faruk, a man wearing a tan suit with light blue dress shirt and coral tie.

Ali Faruk is the Policy Director at Families Forward Virginia, Virginia’s leading organization dedicated to disrupting the cycles of child abuse, neglect and poverty. Working with parents and their children, Families Forward Virginia provides home visiting programs, family support and education, professional development, child sexual abuse prevention programs, advocacy, and public awareness/public education.

Ali has served on many non-profit boards including Mental Health America of Virginia, the Virginia Autism Council, and the Community Building Committee of the United Way of Greater Richmond and Petersburg. Ali is currently a member of the Board of Long-Term Care Administrators. You can follow Ali on Twitter @FamiliesFwdVA.

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.

Making the 2020 Census Count for Us

Too often, people and communities most in need of resources lack access to them. In the U.S., the distribution of resources and political power is based on the census, which is an effort to count every individual living in the country every ten years. While this system is imperfect, the census is an opportunity that could enhance the quality of life for survivors throughout the country. This is especially true among populations often considered to be underserved: in Virginia, populations who are most undercounted include Black, Latinx, and Asian communities; children; and those with unstable housing. We must do our part to improve the accuracy of the census to ensure resources are equitably distributed.

The 2020 census offers more safe ways to participate in a brief questionnaire than ever before – online, by mail, over the phone, or with a census enumerator coming to your residence – and even offers support in twelve languages other than English. Despite improvements in accessibility, data collection faces unique challenges due to mixed attitudes about the census, the government, and the tech used to collect and store responses – all during the COVID-19 pandemic and uprisings for racial justice.

But it’s exactly this social context that highlights the importance of the census. As people committed to ending and preventing violence, we shouldn’t forget that getting counted is another way to influence decision-making power for the benefit of our communities. Getting a full, fair, and accurate census count is critical for communities to get their fair share of $1.5 trillion in federal funding for essential services and public works, and influences economic development impacting local jobs. Census data also determines how residents are represented at all levels of government for the next ten years and serves as the cornerstone for research and evaluation projects.

Street lamp post with red sticker on it with yellow words that read, "do you want a future of decency, equality, and real social justice."

As an emerging evaluator, I know the value of using census data to support our anti-violence work. Along with the data collected on our programs and services, census data can help us talk about the context of our work in needs assessments, grant applications, evaluations, and outreach efforts. Sexual and domestic violence services, community education, and partnerships depend on grant programs that rely on census data for funding and planning. And we know that advocacy builds survivors’ connections to community resources such as housing programs, Medicaid and FAMIS, SNAP and WIC, childcare services, child and adult education, and services for older adults – all of which receive funding based on census data.

I also know that data can be weaponized, and I recognize the legacy of using the census for disenfranchisement and oppression. While I’m no historian, I see clear connections between the Three-Fifths Compromise of 1787, the use of census data to incarcerate Japanese Americans at internment camps in World War II, counting incarcerated people in the rural areas where prisons are located, the dangers of asking about citizenship, and insufficient information on gender and sexual orientation. Fortunately, the Census Bureau is legally required to protect the confidentiality of responses and doesn’t ask any questions about citizenship this year. I can understand why people may feel uncomfortable participating – and despite their concerns, I encourage everyone to think about which communities get fewer resources when older, white adults with higher incomes are more likely to participate than people with other identities.

Census activities started at the beginning of 2020 and there’s still time to be counted. However, the director of the Census Bureau announced on August 3 that all data collection efforts would end on September 30. Cutting the timeframe short by a full month means billions of dollars are at stake for communities across the state. There’s greater risk of not reaching populations identified as hard-to-count in Virginia, including Black, Latinx, and Asian people; young children and older adults; and people who are unhoused. Additionally, an interactive map of current census response rates show lower self-response rates among rural localities in Virginia, where broadband internet is less accessible.

Since the census affects our resources and representation, it’s up to us as trusted community organizations, advocates, and activists to make it count over the next few weeks. Here are a few ways we can help get out the count:

  • Make sure your organization has participated. While individuals and organizations are required by law to participate in the enumeration process, we still get to make decisions about what that participation looks like and how to share information safely. Plus, the Census Bureau offered domestic violence shelters and connected housing programs the opportunity to work with specially trained enumerators. But if you didn’t opt-in to that process, there are still safe ways to complete the form. Check out this blog post from census partner NNEDV or reach out to us.
  • Fact-check myths. For instance, lots of people mistakenly believe that the census is only for citizens or asks about citizenship status. People also worry that the census asks about religion, income, or collects other demographic information. Check out the sample form in English and Spanish to review the questions and answer options.
  • Spread the word in your organization. Talk to your coworkers, volunteers, and board about why the census matters. Discuss the possibility of making public statements, distributing information to clients, or connecting with local partners also working to get out the count.
  • Support your Local Complete Count Committee. Sexual and domestic violence organizations can help with outreach or collaborate on virtual or socially distanced census events. Find yours by clicking here.  

This urgency is why we are holding two technical assistance calls on the importance of the census and 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 online for the following events:

Why the census is so critical for survivors
Thursday, August 27, 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM Eastern
Sign up for the call on Zoom at: https://bit.ly/censusTAcall

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

Getting counted in the census and voting in elections are important ways that we can influence decisions about our collective futures, especially when the votes and voices of Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color have been systematically excluded and suppressed. Movement building requires us to be involved in multiple strategies to bring about sustainable change, and we can’t afford to overlook the ecosystem of approaches beyond electoral approaches. We look forward to hearing how you will integrate these options and others into your toolbox for social change!

Additional Census Resources for Advocates:


Kristin Vamenta (she/her or they/them) is the Data and Evaluation Project Coordinator at the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. In addition to assessing the effectiveness of Action Alliance programs and supporting member agencies in collecting and using data, Kristin provides training and technical assistance on crisis intervention services; prevention and advocacy approaches to tech safety; and racial justice as integral to violence prevention and intervention.

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

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.

Supporting Reproductive Freedom for Survivors During a Global Pandemic

A guest blog by NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia

Imagine being trapped in a house with an abusive partner. You’re unable to leave for a variety of reasons. Now, imagine you are in that same situation but there is a stay-at-home order due to a pandemic that is overwhelming emergency rooms and closing social services.  Your resources have been severely limited.

Intimate partner violence is already a national healthcare crisis, and domestic violence-related deaths have spiked around the world, including across the United States, due to COVID-19.

In the very same time frame, anti-abortion politicians in over a dozen states, including Texas, Oklahoma, and Ohio, are doubling down on their efforts to shut down abortion providers and eliminate a patient’s ability to visit and access critical reproductive healthcare at a women’s healthcare center.  Reproductive healthcare is an essential healthcare service for so many and often a lifeline for victims and survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

Domestic violence, sexual assault, and reproductive coercion are forms of intimate partner violence that have always been intricately linked with reproductive healthcare, rights, and justice. Domestic and intimate partner violence is also more prevalent among already vulnerable populations, including women of color, poor communities, people with disabilities, and those already living on the margins. Women who experience intimate partner violence are also most likely to experience unintended pregnancies.

As we know, intimate partner violence doesn’t just have the potential to create coercive situations with regard to one’s reproductive freedom, it also has a strong and direct correlation with increased risks for negative pregnancy and maternal health outcomes. A 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found that an estimated two million women in the U.S. have become pregnant as a result of violence by intimate partners and about 5% of women surveyed reported that an intimate partner had tried to impregnate them against their will during their lifetime. Reproductive coercion can be a partner refusing to wear a condom or taking it off during sex without informing their partner. It can also be forcing a woman to carry a pregnancy to term against her will or forcing her to have an abortion against her will.

One analysis of CDC data found that nearly 4% of pregnant women reported being physically abused by a current or former partner during pregnancy and that the strongest predictor of physical violence was if the partner did not want the pregnancy.” There is also research that  shows the relationship between  women who seek  abortion care, and their abuse histories.  Add that all up with the current public health crisis and you can begin to understand just how dangerous this pandemic is for women in unsafe domestic situations.

COVID-19 has already caused a drastic increase in isolation, domestic stress, and other social and mental health issues for so many individuals. It is imperative that everyone, especially victims and survivors of domestic and sexual abuse, have access to nonjudgmental, comprehensive reproductive health care at this moment.

Abortion-care providers serve an important role in caring for those in dangerous circumstances. These highly qualified professionals are trained to spot signs of abuse, human trafficking, and coercion. In fact, providers like Planned Parenthood have developed protocols and guidelines to assess and assist patients facing difficult circumstances.

For example, at a local Planned Parenthood in Virginia, when a woman takes a urine test there is a sign in the bathroom telling her that she can indicate on the cup that she does not want her partner to go back to the exam room. Clinic staff will then ensure that she can be examined alone. Planned Parenthood maintains an up-to-date list of resources for victims and tries to ensure that people have a safe space to seek help. Notably, women who experience partner violence, more often than ones who do not, seek out effective birth control methods like long-acting reversible contraceptives after having an abortion. Having control over whether and when she becomes pregnant can mean the difference between facing physical abuse or not, between being killed or not.

Much of the time, victims of intimate partner violence seek out help when their partners are not home or when they are alone. That has become even more difficult with stay-at-home orders, as the resources and outs people usually use in their safety planning become harder to access. Some women may be able to get help from their women’s healthcare providers, such as Planned Parenthood, who are expanding the provision of services to include primary health care during this time of need.

The goal of public health officials during this pandemic with respect to domestic violence and intimate partner violence should be the same as it always was: to provide victims and survivors with as many avenues to access resources as possible and to help them regain control of their lives, which includes safeguarding access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare and abortion care. In some places, anti-abortion politicians are using the COVID virus as a smokescreen to eliminate abortion access without waiting for the Supreme Court to opine on the issue. Cutting off access to abortion care can have an especially devastating impact on patients facing domestic violence at home.

Resources for advocates, survivors, practitioners, and community-members:

NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia’s reproductive resources guide: provides info on accessing reproductive healthcare services and resources in Virginia during COVID-19.

The Action Alliance’s Reproductive & Sexual Coercion Toolkit for advocates: The goal of this toolkit is to help begin conversations and implement policies within sexual and domestic violence agencies that seek to respond to survivor experiences of reproductive and sexual coercion and to help advocates utilize reproductive justice framework in their work with survivors.

The Action Alliance’s #StaySafeVA COVID-19 Media Campaign: Many survivors and community members are unaware that sexual and domestic violence programs are still open and available to provide support during the Coronavirus pandemic. This statewide awareness campaign let survivors know that help is still available. The Virginia Statewide Hotline is still here and ready to help, and so are sexual and domestic violence programs all over the state.


Galina Varchena is the Policy Director for NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia

Michelle Woods is the Communications Director for NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia

Hailey is the Communications Fellow for NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia.

Partnership through the State and Local Partners Meetings

1I’ll never forget the first time I attended a State and Local Partners meeting.

I had just started with the Action Alliance and was invited to attend this meeting a few weeks from my start date. This particular meeting was at UVA-Wise – a pretty far drive from Richmond, and the farthest I’ve ever driven in Virginia! As we drove through the mountains, I remember feeling excited to learn more about the field of sexual and domestic violence advocacy, getting a chance to meet new people throughout the state, and spend time with co-workers learning more about the work of the Action Alliance.

For most State and Local Partners meetings, agencies in a particular region of the state come together for a day to talk about topics related to our work that are important to that region, get updates about work being done across the state, and hear updates, news, and announcements from the convening partners including the Action Alliance, Virginia Department of Social Services, Department of Criminal Justice Services, Virginia Department of Health, and the Department of Housing and Community Development. The Action Alliance is one of partners that helps organize and facilitate these meetings. For each quarterly meeting, the convening partners rotate the roles of facilitator and time-keeper.

At this first meeting, I remember we focused on prevention services and how difficult it was for agencies to address mental/behavioral health and substance use concerns. Other meetings I’ve attended have focused on working with underserved populations, funding concerns, survivor data privacy as well as privacy in communal living situations, and more. There’s always something to be learned at the meetings.

What so many advocates and directors walk away with after these meetings is not only practical resources from partners and other agencies on how to do better work in Virginia, but they’ve also built better relationships by being in the same room, listening to each other, knowing that we are facing the same concerns, speaking the truths that are difficult about our work, and collaborating to solve problems in the moment. This networking power is phenomenal and keeps advocates and directors looking forward to State and Local Partners meetings every quarter. I personally created so many connections with folks from that first meeting. It was a great “welcome aboard” opportunity.

If you are interested in joining us for a meeting and building these great connections to help you in the work and the movement to end violence, you’ll want to save the following dates:

  • February 11, hosted by Goochland Cares, will be for agencies in the Central Virginia region. You can RSVP at this link.
  • May 19 will be hosted in Northwestern Virginia
  • August 11 will be hosted in Southwestern Virginia
  • November 10 will be hosted in the Eastern Virginia

This year, we’re working to make sure our State and Local Partners meetings are nurturing your needs. If you have any questions or ideas, please reach out to Tamara Mason at tmason[at]vsdvalliance.org!


Amanda Pohl is the Data Systems and Evaluation Director at the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. She works with a team to ensure survivor data is kept private and in the control of survivors and provides valuable insight on data that is used to inform policy and tell the stories of survivors and the work of agencies in Virginia.

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.

Unpacking the Billy Graham Rule, Especially for Political Candidates

Last week news broke that Rep. Robert Foster, who is running for governor in Mississippi, denied ride-along access on the campaign trail to a female reporter, Larrison Campbell, unless she had a male colleague join her. Foster based his refusal on a promise he made to his wife that he would “never be alone with another woman he wasn’t related to under any circumstance, be it in an office, a farm or a truck.”

Rep. Foster is not the first politician to reference such promises, also known as “Billy Graham rule,” named for the evangelical leader who was a strong proponent of this vow never to spend time alone with a woman other than his wife. A couple of years ago, news circulated about how Vice President Mike Pence had similar practices of not eating a meal alone with a woman other than his wife.

At first glance, it may seem noble and an act of loving commitment that a husband would respect his wife by honoring wishes that he never be alone with another woman. Yet the basis of such an agreement illustrates rape culture and its continual use perpetuates dangerous premises that contribute to violence in our society. Moreover, its use by political candidates and others in the workplace reinforces gender inequality and discrimination.

The notion that men and women cannot exist in a space without a sexual encounter occurring continues false narratives of women as sexually-charged vixen who constantly seduce men. It also perpetuates the idea of men as powerless and unable to control themselves as they “fall victim” to the wiles of sexually-charged women. Moreover, an agreement between husband and wife suggests a lack of trust between the two individuals. No part of these stereotypes illustrates a healthy relationship.

At 2017 Women’s March in Los Angeles, group of men holding a sign that says, “Men of quality respect women's equality.”

At 2017 Women’s March in Los Angeles, group of men holding a sign that says, “Men of quality respect women’s equality.” Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash

Foster also rationalized that in the age of the #MeToo movement, it is “safer” to keep to his promise so that he cannot be falsely accused of sexual assault because his opponents are looking for any signs of impropriety to use against him in the campaign. False accusations are exceedingly rare although the idea get lots of media attention. It’s far more common that sexual violence goes unreported than it is that false accusations of violence are lodged.

It’s time that we shift from a culture in which (potential) victims are told to watch out for themselves and take precautions to avoid violence to a culture in which we focus on correcting the conditions that prompt perpetrators to commit violence. The onus should not be on the would-be victim to act or dress a certain way as they move around in society. Rather, would-be perpetrators should have the tools needed to control their actions.

Beyond these personal relationships and whatever agreements Foster and his wife have, Foster is running for public office. Excluding women from participating in the work around him is detrimental to gender equality. Women will be left out of important conversations, unable to seek or possibly even know about job opportunities, excluded from positions of power, and face reduced earning potential. All of this repeats the cycle of gender injustice.

Excluding women from participating in the work around him is detrimental to gender equality. Women will be left out of important conversations, unable to seek or possibly even know about job opportunities, excluded from positions of power, and face reduced earning potential. All of this repeats the cycle of gender injustice.

The Action Alliance envisions a world filled with healthy relationships and free of violence. To move closer to this vision, we’re calling out and correcting faulty assumptions society holds of how people exist and interact, and we’re working to help breakdown rigid gender norms. Learn more about primary prevention at: http://vsdvalliance.org/prevention/about-primary-prevention

Feature image: At 2017 Women’s March in Los Angeles, group of men holding a sign that says, “Men of quality respect women’s equality.” Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash


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

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