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.

Join the work of the Action Alliance! 

Building a Culture of Consent in Virginia

These past few weeks in Virginia politics have not been easy. It started with a manufactured scandal surrounding Delegate Kathy Tran’s bill that would have repealed harmful TRAP laws on abortion access, including 24-hour waiting periods, requirements to obtain multiple layers of physician consent, and requirements that second-trimester abortions take place in a hospital. Soon after this, Governor Ralph Northam’s 1984 yearbook page surfaced featuring people in blackface and KKK attire. Just a few days later, Attorney General Mark Herring, who had joined in the chorus of statements urging for the resignation of Governor Northam, also admitted to donning blackface. And now, two survivors have bravely come forward to share their accounts of being sexually assaulted by Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax.

As these painful conversations continue to play out, the Action Alliance has released several statements, calling on advocates and social justice allies to address the injurious legacy of racism and white supremacy in Virginia and to seize these public conversations on sexual violence and harm as opportunities to ground ourselves in a collective mission of building a culture of consent and disentangling our accountability processes from that of the criminal justice system.

As a statewide voice on issues of sexual and domestic violence, the Action Alliance works for a radically different future where survivors are met with compassion and respect and where public conversations on harm focus on reparation and healing and on the need to invest in sexual violence prevention.

Committing ourselves to sexual violence prevention and building a culture of consent

In the age of #MeToo, we as a society are finally grappling with what community accountability might look like for those who do harm and the importance of believing survivors. These are long overdue and critical conversations to have. However, what this age of reckoning and justice-seeking also calls on us to do is to explore the nuances of cultural norms that might nurture a future in which every person has the knowledge and skills necessary to practice informed, ongoing, and enthusiastic consent. This is the antidote to sexual violence and we believe every human is deserving of experiencing healthy and joyful sexuality, centered in pleasure.

Wood word yes on a grey background

If healthy, violence-free relationships are our collective desire, then the conversation around harm can shift to focusing on how we might channel that desire into building a world in which these healthy, violence-free relationships and interactions are the norm. Here are just a few ideas for how we might call on our neighbors, families, communities, and policy leaders to invest in the prevention of sexual violence and build a culture of consent:

Provide opportunities for consent education and healthy sexuality to be taught early, often, and in multifaceted and developmentally appropriate ways in our families, schools, and communities.

Call on policy leaders to invest in sexual violence prevention and promote thriving communities in which healthy sexuality and healthy relationships are core values.

  • Ask policy leaders and stakeholders to provide schools with the resources they need to teach Family Life Education/Sex education effectively.
  • Review Virginia’s Family Life Education curricula and talk to teachers, administrators, and students about whether this education is consistent with over 30 years of research + best practices in behavior-change and health promotion.
  • Support every community in the Commonwealth having access to sexual violence prevention programming. Currently, only 6 communities in Virginia are funded by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention for this life-saving work.
  • Call on policy leaders to support funding for community-based Sexual & Domestic Violence Agencies to build and sustain prevention programming. There are no dedicated state funds for the prevention of sexual violence in Virginia.
  • Ensure that policy leaders are investing in accessible healthcare, including preventative care, for all Virginians.
  • Pay attention to whether your policy leaders are crafting and supporting tax and employment policies – like broadening paid family/medical leave and earned income tax credits – that support healthy families.

Right now, violence, harassment, and oppression are all around us. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Families and communities have the power to support transformative pivots in our culture. We can discuss these nuanced and difficult topics (like consent) with friends and neighbors, with our children, and with relatives. And we can commit ourselves to dismantling practices and norms that sustain a current culture of silence, shame, and avoidance on these topics giving way to a future in which wholeness, health, and consent are the new norms.

We at the Action Alliance have a compelling vision for a world where all of us thrive. We believe this better world is possible. We believe we are the ones we’ve been waiting for to make this future happen. We choose all of us to be a part of this future.

We seek a radically hopeful future where:

  • individuals are free and have what they need to reach their full potential;
  • relationships, families, and communities are healthy, equitable, nourishing, and joyful;
  • government, institutions and systems are rooted in equity and justice;
  • all decisions are grounded in whether they will benefit our future descendants, as well as our beautiful, sustaining earth.

With your help, this vision for a radically hopeful future – where sexual violence does not exist – really isn’t too distant.

For more information and resources on our work to prevent sexual violence in Virginia, check out TeachConsent.org, learn more about our statewide prevention projects, and support the Building Healthy Futures Fund.

Both images: Adobe Stock


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. He also likes memes and baby animals.


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

Responding to the Kavanaugh Hearing With a Commitment to Prevention

On September 27th, I watched Christine Blasey Ford testify in front of  the Senate Judiciary Committee in my mostly darkened office. The day was already gray, and only my small desk lamp and computer screen provided any sort of illumination. I watched as Dr. Ford described the sexual violence she experienced as a teenager, as she repeatedly apologized for not remembering every detail, as she politely asked for caffeine and then a break, and as she patiently and scientifically described the ways that this trauma imprinted on her brain. When I took my own break and walked over to a coffee shop to grab a drink, my eyes burned thinking about what Dr. Ford remembered most vividly—their laughter, “two friends having a really good time with one another.”

I then watched Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony. I watched as his face twisted and got red, his body seemingly unable to contain his anger, fear and defiance. I was immediately struck by his rage and how clearly he felt entitled to it. Writer, social justice facilitator, and healer adrienne marree brown reflected on this in a blog post titled “Dr. Ford’s Dignity” when she wrote, “Kavanaugh has been marked by his actions in public, his dirty hands showing, his rageful face showing precisely how a boy who sexually assaults a girl while he is drunk looks when he grows up. his true self showed today, and every survivor who saw his face, who heard Christine Blasey-Ford say she was once scared he might kill her, recognized him as a perpetrator.”

For many of us who recognized Kavanaugh as a perpetrator, his confirmation a little over a week later, was not surprising, though still devastating. Just as so many things that have happened over the past few years have been not surprising, though still devastating.

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Image credit: Andrea Arroyo

In our own work, we must continue to show up for survivors. From Thursday, the day of the hearing, to the Sunday after, RAINN saw a 338% increase in hotline calls. While advocacy and direct services continue to be vital for the communities we serve and the survivors who come to us, it’s equally important to commit to primary prevention work.

At the Action Alliance, we define primary prevention as a set of practices and values that seek to shift attitudes, behaviors and norms that support and perpetuate the root causes of violence. Primary prevention uses anti-oppressive frameworks and understands that systems of oppression such as patriarchy and white supremacy are at the heart of sexual and intimate partner violence.

While devastating, the Kavanaugh hearing and Dr. Ford’s testimony provide us with clear examples of rape culture, one that normalizes and rationalizes sexual violence as inevitable and a part of “natural” human behavior rather than understanding it as structurally and culturally created and sustained. An understanding of rape culture allows us to see how the violence Dr. Ford experienced, that so many survivors experience, goes beyond what happened one summer night in a Maryland suburb. And when we use primary prevention practices we are able to prevent instances of violence and dismantle the culture that allows this violence to happen.

While devastating, the Kavanaugh hearing and Dr. Ford’s testimony provide us with clear examples of rape culture, one that normalizes and rationalizes sexual violence as inevitable and a part of “natural” human behavior rather than understanding it as structurally and culturally created and sustained.

With a primary prevention lens, we can see how misogyny and privilege build a culture where boys feel entitled to a young girl’s body, where they do not take her struggle seriously, where they in fact find the situation amusing, even fun. We see how this phrase that flows so easily out of some people’s mouths, “boys will be boys,” reinforces the idea that harm is inevitable and boys, specifically white boys, should not or cannot be held accountable for their actions. It is rape culture that sends the message to survivors that speaking publicly about the violence they have experienced is harmful or unfair to their perpetrator; it frames this unveiling of violence, abuse and trauma as a “scary time for boys” rather than the reckoning that it is.

We can better understand the differences in Dr. Ford’s and Kavanaugh’s demeanors on September 27th with a primary prevention lens because we understand how gender roles and stereotypes police behavior. It was necessary for Dr. Ford to be polite, courteous, and controlled because she is a woman and to be too emotional, angry, or frustrated would make her dramatic, hysterical and thus unbelievable. While Dr. Ford was dignified, Kavanaugh, as a man, was outraged; even, arguably, in excess. What are we teaching young women and trans or non-binary people when some are entitled to express their emotions to a point of a menace, while others must keep even the deepest parts of their grief contained and quiet?

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Image credit: Sharyn Lee

With a primary prevention lens, we can better unpack how the public perceived Dr. Ford in comparison to Anita Hill, a black woman who testified in front of an eerily similar Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991. Because with this lens, we know that racism is also a root of rape culture and sexual violence and that when a CNN pundit described Dr. Ford’s testimony as more resonant because she projected vulnerability while Anita Hill projected strength and poise, we know this is connected to racial stereotypes about black women.

The Kavanaugh hearing and subsequent swearing in prove the necessity for a deep culture shift. We want to live in a world where people understand and practice consent, where sexuality is joyful, where boundaries are respected, where open communication is expected. In this world, those who have harmed are held accountable and these harmful behaviors are transformed and changed. In order to get there, we must commit to violence prevention. We must invest in and value prevention trainings and education; community building, organizing and connection; and the work of people and organizations in other movements that fight for justice and liberation (National Network of Abortion Funds and SisterSong). As organizer and educator Mariame Kaba reminded us on twitter in 2017, “Let this radicalize you rather than lead you to despair.”

Thank you, Dr. Ford.

Thank you, Anita Hill.

We believe you.

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Image credit: Ashley Lukashevsky


Additional Reading:

We Still Haven’t Learned from Anita Hill’s Testimony (NYT) by Kimberlé Crenshaw

What Christine Blasey Ford Reveals about Womanhood (The Guardian) by Moira Donegan

Listen: Déjà vu All Over Again (NPR Code Switch)


Laura Chow Reeve is the Youth Resilience Coordinator at the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. Prior to her work at the Action Alliance, Laura worked with Girls Rock Camps, youth programs that use music and creative expression as a tool for social justice. She has a MA in Asian American Studies from UCLA and writes fiction.

 

Empowering Survivors, Curing Stigma: Trauma-Informed Advocacy for Survivors Living with Mental Illness

This May marks the 69th anniversary of Mental Health Month in the United States. The purpose of Mental Health Month is to increase awareness of mental health issues and to empower individuals who live with mental health issues; to challenge stigma; and to help those who suffer heal emotional and psychological wounds.[1]

Sexual assault and intimate partner violence can have significant mental health consequences for survivors.[2] As attorneys and advocates who work with survivors, it is our responsibility to be aware of the signs of trauma in our clients, to ensure that our representation does not worsen the harm done to a client or create additional harms, and to zealously advocate on our clients’ behalf. Many, if not most, survivors who live with mental health, substance use, or trauma-related issues are fully capable of engaging in survivor-driven representation. These clients can make informed decisions about their case, and can understand, deliberate upon, and reach conclusions about matters affecting their own well-being.[3]

Wellness Cairns

There are myriad ways that advocates and attorneys can challenge the stigma surrounding mental illness and offer concrete assistance to survivors who have experienced trauma resulting from multiple victimizations. Attorneys for survivors who are dealing with mental health issues can assist clients by:

  • Recognizing that survivors may be unable to recall all the details of the abuse or violence;
  • Providing options and the time and space for survivors to make fully informed decisions;
  • Validating the survivor’s feelings throughout the process;
  • Being responsive to a survivor’s requests for information and support, even if she asks for the same information several times;
  • Partnering with survivors to identify alternative coping strategies if they are engaging in self-harming behaviors;
  • Finding supports for developing alternative or additional coping strategies;
  • Connecting survivors who are experiencing a mental health crisis with a trusted mental health referral/resource;
  • Offering support to survivors who are using alcohol and/or drugs by safety planning and strategizing to the greatest extent possible at the time (including assessing risks and developing strategies that mitigate the risks posed by alcohol and drug use) and encouraging them to contact you again;
  • Gaining an understanding of the ways in which a client’s unique challenges may impact her ability to engage in the advocacy process;
  • Tailoring interviewing and counseling approaches to meet the needs of and maximize the self-determination of each individual client;
  • Developing a basic understanding of trauma-related and mental health conditions that survivors may experience;
  • Being skilled in listening and asking questions to understand a survivor’s perspective and needs; and
  • Understanding what information and options to offer to meet those needs.[4]

Survivor-driven advocacy requires that attorneys tailor their advocacy approach to meet the unique needs of survivors. It is within the context of a respectful, survivor-driven relationship that lawyers can provide opportunities for survivors experiencing trauma and mental health challenges to access the resources they need and to exercise greater control over their own lives.


Janice Craft is one of two attorneys with the Project for Empowerment of Survivors (PES) at the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. Prior to her work with the Action Alliance, Janice served as the statewide policy director for NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and clerked for the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals of Virginia. Janice is a graduate of William and Mary Law School, where she served as Editor-in-Chief of the William & Mary Journal of Women and the Law. You can reach Janice and the rest of the PES team at legal@vsdvalliance.org.


[1] Mental Health America, http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/may (last visited May 4, 2018).

[2] See, e.g., the National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health, http://www.nationalcenterdvtraumamh.org/ (last visited May 4, 2018).

[3] See, e.g., Comment 1 to Rule 1.14 of the Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct, available at http://www.vsb.org/pro-guidelines/index.php/main/print_view (last visited May 4, 2018).

[4] See Seighman, Mary M., et al., “Representing Domestic Violence Survivors Who Are Experiencing Trauma and Other Mental Health Challenges: A Handbook for Attorneys” (2011), available at http://www.nationalcenterdvtraumamh.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/AttorneyHandbookMay282012.pdf (last visited May 4, 2018).

Meet the Action Alliance’s new Prevention Director, Kat Monusky!

The Action Alliance is excited to welcome Kat Monusky to the team as our new Prevention and Community Wellness Director!

Kat has been working as the Prevention Program Coordinator at WCSAP—the Washington State Sexual Assault Coalition–for 7 years, during which time she has changed the landscape and evolution of prevention in Washington State. In this role, one of Kat’s priorities has been to bring the voices of local programs to statewide and national processes, and to make the significant funding and programming shifts necessary to ensure that coalition prevention work is responsive to the needs of local programs.

Kat has dreamed up and managed a variety of new statewide prevention initiatives from start to finish, including a multi-year pilot project on child sexual abuse prevention to push local programs out of their comfort zones and toward best practices and a new statewide Prevention Mentor Program. She has managed Washington’s large-scale, statewide Sexual Assault Awareness Month campaign for seven years, including the creation and distribution of materials, along with managing the WCSAP SAAM website and social media.

Kat and pups

In the realm of writing and publications, Kat has developed content for over 40 Prevention Tips, ‘special edition’ resources, and prevention pages of the WCSAP website. She has also been in charge of producing 11 volumes of WCSAP’s nationally-recognized “Partners in Social Change” (PISC) journal.

Kat’s connection to the work originated in Virginia. She was a survivor advocate while attending VCU as an undergraduate and in graduate school, and joined the Action Alliance Prevention Team as an intern in 2010. As Kat says, “My career began in working directly with survivors, and that experience keeps me grounded in the anti-violence and anti-oppression frameworks that guide my work.”

About her new position, Kat says, “I’m so grateful to have been able to learn from and grow with the amazing network of preventionists and advocates in Washington State. But I’m also so excited to return to Virginia and join the fantastic team at the Action Alliance! Looking forward to learning about the unique social change efforts that run through Virginia, and hopefully to meet many of you soon.”


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