Thinking Back, Looking Forward: 2017 in Review

2017 had a lot in store for us here at the Action Alliance. Together we were able to reach new heights and overcome the largest obstacles. We thank you for all of your support in 2017! But before we leap into 2018, we invite you to take a look at all that we were able to accomplish together this year.

Building Healthy Futures

In April we hosted our 5th installment of the Building Healthy Futures conference series, in partnership with the Virginia Department of Health and Virginia Department of Social Services. This year’s theme was Linking Public Health & Activism to Prevent Sexual & Intimate Partner Violence. We were honored to have Maheen Kaleem and Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs as our keynote speakers and many others as trainers.

Bravery: Asking “What If?” and “Why Not?”

We hosted over 180 advocates across the state at this year’s biennial retreat at Radford University, where our theme was Bravery. We acknowledged our Catalyst Award honorees, Soyinka Rahim guided us as our Conference Weaver, caped crusader Nan Stoops delivered our opening keynote, and Nubia Peña and Cynthia Peña gave an incredible joint keynote on the final day of the conference. In between we learned, questioned, and practiced self-care with the guidance of advocates statewide.


Bridging the Justice Gap in Virginia

Our newly-launched Project for the Empowerment of Survivors (“PES”) helps to bridge the justice gap in Virginia by connecting survivors of intimate partner violence with the legal services they need. The PES seeks to bridge the justice gap for survivors in the following ways:

  • By partnering with local sexual assault and domestic violence agencies to identify survivors who need legal services;
  • By employing dedicated legal interns and advocates to answer legal questions and provide legal information to survivors;
  • By employing on-staff attorneys to provide free legal counsel and advice to survivors;
  • By referring survivors to community-based private attorneys who agree to take cases on a reduced fee or pro bono basis;
  • By training attorneys and advocates to provide trauma-informed legal services and legal advocacy; and
  • By helping survivors from marginalized communities pay for private attorneys through the use of our Legal Fund.

Uplifting the Voices of Our Communities

As an agency we came together to support two marches this year: the March for Black Women and the Juvenile Justice parade. In conjunction with the March for Black Women, we also hosted our very own (and very first!) Black Women’s Town Hall. Black women throughout the community (including Delegate McQuinn, Delegate Airde, and Delegate Price) gathered in our office to voice concerns within the community.

2017 in review 1

Partnering with Governor McAuliffe to Support Survivors

We were pleased to accept a donation of $57,535 from Governor Terry McAuliffe in support of ending sexual and domestic violence and sexual harassment statewide. Governor McAuliffe  further demonstrated his support for victims and survivors in the Commonwealth. We applaud Governor McAuliffe for his act of generosity and look forward to continued partnerships with the Governor’s Office and the Virginia General Assembly in this work

Writing Our Future Story

Members from across the state of Virginia came together for our final membership meeting of the year. During this meeting, they took a step back from the world’s current state and imagined the world that they would like to leave behind for their descendants. This dreaming and asking the questions “what if?” and “why not?” will guide us in 2018 as we create a blueprint to build that new world.

Honoring Those Whose Actions Give Us Hope

Thanks to our dedicated staff and Act Honor Hope Committee, we were able to host one of our most successful Act Honor Hope events to date! With nearly 200 advocates from across the state in attendance, we honored the groundbreaking work of Senator Jennifer McClellan and Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn, SARA, and a passionate group of students from Charlottesville High School. Together they ensured that legislation was passed incorporating the concept of consent into healthy relationship education in Virginia’s public schools.

2017 in review 2

Writing Our Future Story: The Power of Asking “What If” and “Why Not”

Growing up I was often given titles such as difficult and nosey. I’d quickly correct those who called me the latter, “Oh no, I’m not nosey, I’m just curious.” I continuously felt a need to justify my inquisitive mind.

Over time, the need to justify myself transformed into a lack of curiosity altogether. I became exhausted with explaining why I had so many questions and sometimes even being punished for asking them. Of course, I still wondered and asked in my head, but all too often these questions were never heard outside of my own thoughts.

I now find myself wanting to reignite that fire and let the flames of curiosity burn. I have been reacquainted with the power of asking questions like “what if” and “why not”. I was reminded that being inquisitive and curious, though often seen as negative traits, are actually positive ones. Asking questions helps us create innovative ideas and anticipate what’s next.

As I sat in on the Action Alliance’s Membership meeting on Friday, December 7, we were encouraged to ask ourselves and each other “what if…”

What if education was free?

What if everyone had a home?

What if society valued compassion over money?

A space was created for us to wonder. We were allowed to imagine what could be possible in a world 500 years from now and question the obstacles that are holding us back from making our ideal future world a reality. This world where we embrace differences… where freedom, peace, and happiness are guaranteed… a world where we not only coexist with each other and the world around us, but we inter-exist.  A world where we look out for each other and we support each other.

This questioning will guide us in 2018. We will continue to ask ourselves what if and why not and imagine how the world could change and then use these thoughts to create a blueprint for our actions. We hope that creating a plan of action to create the world we want will help us leave a better home to the many generations after us.

Stay tuned for 2018 Membership Meeting dates, at which we will be building opportunities to set long-term movement trajectories and how to get there!

Ki’ara Montgomery is a recent graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a bachelor’s degree in public relations, and minors in business and gender, sexuality, and women’s studies. While in school, she had opportunities with VCU AmeriCorps, Culture4MyKids, VCU School of Education, and the Richmond Raiders. She is currently working with the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance as Member and Donor Liaison.

Featured image credit: Ki’ara Montgomery

A Chance in the World

Early intervention and resiliency are two of the best ways to improve the chances of youth growing up to succeed as best they can and to have the best possible chance in life.

But, in the face of all that our youth are up against today, including ever growing racial tensions, how do we re-weave the fabric of family and community to focus on the needs of our youth?

This is a question I sometimes struggle with as a parent and as a youth advocate. I am often frustrated with the multitude of youth serving programs and initiatives aimed at inventing new ways to help youth navigate their world and the social issues that exist.  These programs fail to address racial inequities and fail to provide space for youth who are directly impacted to have a seat at the table. Almost no one is talking to black youth (or youth of other races) about racial issues in meaningful ways.

Zora Neale Hurston

As a mother of black daughters, I can’t afford not to talk to them about the racial realities they undoubtedly face every day. By having these conversations, I am provided with opportunities to identify and offer ways to counter racism. By having these conversations in consistent, meaningful and relevant ways, I am also challenging the denial of African Americans’ lived experiences.

Regardless of race, youth need the opportunity to build the skills necessary to resist racism. Not by ignoring it when it surfaces, withdrawing from conversations, or minimizing experiences, but by being thoughtful and responsible. It starts within by considering their own moral beliefs about justice and caring for others. To be effective, youth need programs that will help them build both the social and emotional strength and social knowledge to understand what is happening in their community and how to counteract racism.

Youth need caring and responsible adults to guide them and help them understand what they’re up against. Adults who will not only support and listen to them, but will also share their own stories of resistance and teach them practical skills of resilience. These adults are willing to take the time to talk about racial matters in appropriate ways no matter how difficult, painful or uncomfortable the task may be.

By actively taking a position against racism, sexism and social class bias, these adults will pass along the tools necessary for youth to develop a source of strength and purpose to succeed. Both are critical components of healthy resilience and both will allow youth, despite where they start, to have a chance in this world to “jump at the sun”, and live out their dreams. And though they are to be encouraged to follow their own path, they must also be reminded of their awesome responsibility to the next generation.

Mahatma Gandhi

The social change our world so desperately needs will come about when, and only when we are willing to work to make it happen.

Leslie Conway is the Youth Resilience Coordinator at the Action Alliance. A self-proclaimed ambassador of love and resistor to hate, Leslie believes her life work is to help communities “sow seeds of resistance” and build social supports youth need to thrive in a racist reality and to create ineradicable change. Embracing her ancestors’ history of resiliency, she also recognizes the responsibility she has to pass along these stories to youth in honest and relevant ways. She believes our youth can be confident, competent and ready to take on the challenges of adulthood despite the social systems meant to disillusion and disempower them and that our experiences can serve as a road map towards healthy resistance.

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

Act. Honor. Hope.

Each year, the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance hosts an event to honor fierce advocacy and extraordinary action that has moved Virginia forward toward eliminating sexual and domestic violence. This event, Act. Honor. Hope., has historically recognized groups and individuals who have gone the extra mile to create a safer Commonwealth for all of us.

This year, we will be honoring Charlottesville High School students, the Sexual Assault Resource Agency in Charlottesville, Senator Jennifer McClellan, and Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn for their combined efforts to incorporate an essential health promotion concept into Virginia’s Family Life Education curricula: consent.

In 2017, ground-breaking legislation was passed incorporating the concept of consent into healthy relationship education in Virginia’s public schools. Senate Bill 1475 and House Bill 2257 re-framed the conversation about sexual assault prevention, lifting responsibility off the shoulders of survivors and shifting it towards potential perpetrators. These laws laid the foundation for meaningful prevention education by incorporating age-appropriate education on the law and recognizing consent as a prerequisite to sexual activity.

This legislation would not have existed had it not been for the tireless efforts of a dedicated group of Charlottesville High School students and advocates at the Sexual Assault Resource Agency (SARA) in Charlottesville. When members of a SARA-sponsored peer education and advocacy club at the school reviewed the Virginia Family Life Education Standards of Learning in 2015, they realized that the information about consent in the curricula was inaccurate and potentially harmful to survivors of sexual violence. Over the course of several months, this group worked with law students, lobbyists, and community activists to help draft legislation that would change the Family Life Education curricula.

Senator Jennifer McClellan and Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn collaborated with the students and advocates over the course of several months, and in December of 2016, proposed bills in the Senate and House, respectively. Without their steadfast leadership, these bills may never have made it out of committee. Without the compelling personal statements written by the students at Charlottesville High who were deeply impacted by these issues, the bill may not have received the overwhelming support it did. In March of 2017, after each law had passed through the General Assembly, HB 2257 and SB 1475 were approved and signed into law by Governor Terry McAuliffe.

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Act. Honor. Hope. is an opportunity to celebrate the incredible work that has been accomplished this year by the honorees, join together with advocates and allies from across the state, and raise the necessary funds to continue this critical work.

Please join us in HONORing these leaders who have taken extraordinary ACTION to bring about the change necessary to end sexual and domestic violence. Their leadership offers HOPE for a better tomorrow.

Act. Honor. Hope. will be held on December 8th from 11:30am to 2:30pm at the John Marshall Ballrooms and will include lunch as well as a silent auction, the proceeds of which will go towards the policy, prevention, and advocacy efforts of the Action Alliance. We hope you will join us! Purchase your tickets here.


Laurel Winsor is the Special Events Coordinator at the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Social Justice at James Madison University in December, 2016.


Justice Parade: Be a Megaphone for Incarcerated Youth

The Action Alliance will soon gather in Richmond with Art 180,  Rise for Youth, and hundreds of other artists, activists, formerly incarcerated individuals, families, and concerned citizens to honor and celebrate the lives of youth affected by Virginia’s shameful trauma-to-prison pipeline.

We will meet for the 3rd Annual Juvenile Justice Parade on Friday, November 3rd at 5 p.m.  at  E. Marshall and 9th St beside the Department of Social Services

The parade will feature musicians, chants written by incarcerated youth, community members carrying art created by incarcerated youth, and an open opportunity for anyone to speak up for youth who continue to be impacted by the school-to-prison pipeline.

Participants will be provided signs, posters, and banners.

The parade will end at ART 180’s youth gallery, ATLAS, where they are currently showing the “My Reality” exhibition, a groundbreaking exhibition and virtual reality installation created by teens impacted by the juvenile justice system in Richmond, VA.

Want to join? Sign up for event updates on Facebook and/or contact Kate McCord to receive updates. Bring your positive energy and voices to be a megaphone for our youth!

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Featured image: Art180

The Trauma-to-Prison-Pipeline (aka “School-to-Prison-Pipeline”) fails young people who are experiencing high levels of toxic stress and/or trauma by responding in overly punitive ways to youth who exhibit normal reactions to trauma and toxic stress.

Youth of color and youth with disabilities are particularly targeted for disproportionately high levels of heavy-handed, punitive responses to vague and subjective infractions in school, such as “defiance of authority”, or “classroom disruption”. Viewed from a trauma-informed lens, these same behaviors may signal youth who are suffering and struggling with ongoing effects of trauma.

 The Action Alliance believes that everyone deserves racially equitable responses that are compassionate and trauma-informed, and which build individual and community assets.

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


Building Power and Community: Black Women’s Town Hall

Black women have two huge strikes against them, living in a predominantly White society and being a woman in a patriarchal system of oppression. Due to these two huge strikes, Black women have their own set of injustices that they and their families deal with daily. An ignorant assumption that Black women are always angry or always leeching leads to society’s scorn. However, Black women deserve to be heard and the assumption of being angry is a false equivalence, a misunderstood passion.

There are few opportunities for Black women’s voices to be heard in a way that is not misinterpreted or misunderstood by society. The Black woman’s voice has been silenced and rarely in the forefront for many discussions on laws and other social & economic issues happening in the community that has a more detrimental effect on them than others society. This town hall will provide safety for all the multidimensional voices & experiences of black women across the state. The hope is that this space will spark more opportunities for conversations and outlets for Black women to no longer be silenced and not be afraid to speak life to their experiences.

What is a Town Hall?

A town hall is a way for people in the community to address concerns and come up with solutions to challenges they are facing, often with a politician present.

Why Specifically a Town Hall for Black Women?

A Black Women’s Town Hall is about building political power of Black women in our communities. It is an opportunity for them to name their own experiences as well as brainstorm solutions to common challenges.1

This is an opportunity for Black women to organize and set a strategic agenda, or list of demands, that reflect the needs, resources, and bold visions for the community.

 The Action Alliance – along with Black Women’s BlueprintTrans Sistas of Color ProjectBlack Youth Project 100, and allied state anti-violence coalitions, has signed on to organize and support the March for Black Women (#M4BW) happening September 30th in Washington D.C.

As we prepare for this event, we are inviting Black women in all their diversity from allied organizations and advocacy groups to attend an in-person and online Black Women’s Town Hall to build power and community.

Children are welcome! Food and childcare will be provided during this event.

M4BW EventBrite invitationBlack Women’s Town Hall event details

Black Women’s Town Hall

Thursday, September 14, 2017


Action Alliance office, Richmond

No fee for this event. Register here.

Want to attend this Town Hall but don’t live in Richmond? Join the event live online by registering here.


This blog post was submitted by the Black Women’s Town Hall Organizing Team of the Action Alliance.

White Supremacy & Gender-Based Violence: How They Feed Each Other and What We Can Do About It

Gender-based violence (or the process of controlling, coercing, or otherwise exerting power over someone because of their gender) is both a tool and a driver of white supremacy. Ending gender-based violence requires us to see and dismantle the same forces that support the existence of white supremacy. At the same time, this work calls us to envision and work toward equity and liberation. So what does this mean in practical terms for advocates working in the movement to end sexual and domestic violence who are white?

While the KKK, neo-Nazis, and other related groups may be the face of white supremacy, they are in fact merely overt expressions of more covert and normalized systems of power and control wielded over communities of color.

White supremacy is more than just individual attitudes of superiority over people of color and individual acts of violence and suppression. It is a system of exploitation and control that is meant to consolidate and maintain advantages, influence, and wealth for white people.

Many of us are shocked by the recent emboldened activity and hateful rhetoric expressed by white supremacists marching in the streets, however the real power of white supremacy operates in more covert ways, through our country’s institutional policies and practices. As Dr. Cornel West says, speaking about witnessing white supremacists marching on Charlottesville, “…that kind of hatred…is just theater.”

The mainstream movement to end gender-based violence has not historically been working in large-scale ways to disrupt white supremacy, despite the fact that many women of color and organizations of color (Beth Richie, Alissa Bierra, Mimi Kim, and INCITE! Women, Gender Non-Conforming, and Trans people of Color* Against Violence just to name a few) have long been articulating the connections and sounding an alarm for the movement to awaken to and act on those connections. It’s not too late to listen.

How do white supremacy and gender-based violence connect?

We know that gender-based violence is both a tool and driver of white supremacy. Here are a few examples of how they operate to reinforce one another:

  • Racism and white supremacy contribute to gender-based violence when survivors of color are reluctant to seek help or call the police for fear of mistreatment, deportation, or for example in Charleena Lyles’ case, even death.
  • Gender-based violence acts as a tool of white supremacy when sexual violence against communities of color is used as a weapon of suppression, as in the case of European colonization of the Americas.
  • Racism and white supremacy contribute to gender-based violence when survivors of color are criminalized for defending themselves and their families against lethal violence in their homes.
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Violence against women in this context includes cis and trans women and non-binary people.

How can advocates — who are white and working in our movement — build racial justice and begin to disrupt white supremacy?

  • We can start by noticing systems of advantages and disadvantages based on skin color: how does white skin privilege play out in housing, media, criminal/legal, banking/loan, and educational systems? How do systemic disadvantages affect survivors of color who may or may not be seeking help from our organizations?
  • We can dive deeper by having open, compassionate, unflinching conversations with other potential allies about how we can and should be working to change those systems.
  • We can and should listen to and take leadership from communities of color, or those who are most directly impacted by racist systems.
  • We can and should show up others who are working on equity and liberation by supporting and amplifying their efforts. We are better together.

How is the Action Alliance working to build racial justice and undermine white supremacy?

The Action Alliance recognizes that racism and white supremacy contribute to gender-based violence, hinder survivors from obtaining adequate safety and support, and impede accountability for people who commit harm. We have made a commitment to conduct anti-violence work through a racial justice lens, with a focus on equity and liberation. Here are a few examples of what we are currently working on and how it connects with our values:

  • We believe that communities of color should be supported in connecting with one another to build power and community. We are hosting a Town Hall by and for Black women in September to offer a venue for Black women to name their own experiences and brainstorm solutions to common challenges.
  • We believe in showing up for one another. We are co-sponsoring the National March for Black Women, September 30, in Washington, D.C., a march organized by Black Women’s BlueprintTrans Sistas of Color Projectand Black Youth Project 100.
  • We believe in keeping kids free. Through education, collaborative partnerships, and policy change, we are working to dismantle Virginia’s “trauma-to-prison pipeline” (a.k.a. “school-to-prison-pipeline“)–which disproportionately affects children of color and children with disabilities–and build in its place compassionate and proportional responses to youth.
  • We know that racial justice is an essential framework for providing trauma-informed and survivor-centered advocacy, so we provide ongoing education about the connections between advocacy and racial justice through our Training Institute.
  • We know equity and liberation are built one relationship at a time and require honest and loving conversations, so in our August and September staff meetings we are talking about our racial justice work, and what else we can and should be doing to strengthen our efforts (see images below).

Action Alliance staff brainstorm ways in which we are personally working to build racial justice, along with other things we could/should be doing.


Action Alliance staff brainstorm ways in which we are  working to build racial justice as an organization, along with other ideas for things we could/should be doing.

None of us will do this perfectly. Working to build racial justice, equity, and liberation requires us to hold many conflicting truths at once. This work is joyful, it is messy, it is painful, it is energizing, it is draining, and it is loving. Most of all, it is necessary, and all of it requires that we do our best to hold ourselves and our comrades accountable and lifted up in honest and loving ways. Join us.

Featured image: Reuters/Ted Soqui 

Thank you to Jonathan Yglesias and Amanda Pohl for their editing help and feedback on this piece.

Kate McCord is the Movement Strategy & Communications Director for the Action Alliance and has been working in the movement to end gender-based violence for over 25 years. Kate is working with other coalition leaders as part of the Move to End Violence initiative to mobilize against state violence and build racial justice nationally and in Virginia. 



In the Wake of Charlottesville: A Message to our Members

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

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

Twitter-Sofia Armen

Twitter/Sofia Armen

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

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

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

Chip Somodeville-Getty Images

Chip Somodeville/Getty Images

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

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

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

In Peace,

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

Featured image source: Democracy Now

#Charlottesville #DefendCville #whitesupremacy #racialjustice

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


Survived and Punished: The story of a 14 year old girl and the system that failed her

Bresha Meadows of Ohio was 14 years old the night she is alleged to have shot and killed her father in what her mother describes as an act of heroism to save the family from his ongoing violence and threats of murder. That was in July 2016; she has been incarcerated ever since awaiting trial.

The system failed her long before that night.

Bresha on bus

Photo provided by Martina Latessa. Photo source: Huffington Post

In the months leading up to the shooting, Bresha’s grades dropped, she ran away from home twice, she told relatives that she was in fear for her life, and that her dad was beating her mom, threatening to kill them all.

In a 2011 petition for a Protective Order, Bresha’s mother, Brandi wrote, “In the 17 years of our marriage he has cut me, broke my ribs, fingers, the blood vessels in my hand, my mouth, blackened my eyes. I believe my nose was broken,” she wrote at the time. “If he finds us, I am 100 percent sure he will kill me and the children.”

Bresha is one of many girls and women of color who have survived and are being punished. Many survivors of domestic and sexual violence are targeted by systems of policing and incarceration, including juvenile and immigration detention, because their survival actions are routinely criminalized.

84% of girls in juvenile detention have experienced family violence.1

When adolescents are arrested for domestic battery, girls were more likely than boys to be defending themselves from abuse by a parent or caregiver.1

Free Bresha Teach-in poster

The Action Alliance, in partnership with the VCU Wellness Resource Center (The Well), and VCU OMSA (Office of Multicultural Student Affairs) will be hosting a #FreeBresha Teach-In this Thursday, April 20, 5:30pm-8pm at the Action Alliance office. Join us as we discuss the criminalization of youth of color, the trauma-to-prison pipeline, and the work being done in Richmond to reduce the incarceration of suffering and traumatized youth.

Rise for Youth has been invited to participate. Confirmed speakers for the #FreeBresha Teach-In include:

  • Fatima M. Smith, Assistant Director for Sexual & Intimate Partner Violence, Stalking, & Advocacy Services and Adjunct Faculty, VCU
  • Reginald Stroble, Assistant Director, Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, VCU
  • Jonathan Yglesias, Prevention & Community Wellness Director, Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance

From 1992 to 2012/2013, girls’ share of arrests increased by 45% and girls’ share of detention increased by 40%. Black girls were almost three times as likely as white girls to be referred to court. Black girls were also 20% more likely than white girls to be in detention, while Native girls were 50% more likely.1

To take action beyond the #FreeBresha Teach-In, here are 5 ways you can help Bresha:

  1. Write to Bresha
  2. Use the #FreeBresha curriculum to spark conversations in your community about trauma and overcriminalization of youth of color.
  3. Organize a #FreeBresha book drive for incarcerated girl and women.
  4. Donate to Bresha and her family via GoFundMe.
  5. Write an open letter to the prosecutors in Bresha’s case.

In Virginia, find out more about amazing groups working to shut down the trauma-to-prison pipeline locally:

  1. Rise for Youth
  2. Legal Aid Justice Center
  3. Performing Statistics
  4. Art180


1 Sherman, Francine T. and Annie Balck, in partnership with The National Crittenton Foundation and the National Women’s Law Center. 2015. “Gender Injustice: System-Level Juvenile Justice Reform for Girls.”

Featured image source: #FreeBresha: A Night of Abolitionist Art & Action, Love and Struggle Photos, @loveandstrugglephotos

RSVP now to the #FreeBresha Teach-In: Overcriminalization of Youth of Color this Thursday, April 20, 5:30pm-8:00pm at the Action Alliance office.

Register now for April 26-27 Building Healthy Futures: Linking Public Health & Activism to Prevent Sexual & Intimate Partner Violence conference, where we will be talking more about the trauma-to-prison pipeline and work being done to shut it down.

Kate McCord is the Movement Strategy & Communications Director for the Action Alliance, a member of the Action Alliance’s Racial Justice Task Force, and has been working in the movement to end gender-based violence for over 25 years. Kate is working with other coalition leaders as part of the Move to End Violence initiative to mobilize against state violence nationally and shut down the trauma-to-prison pipeline in Virginia.

4 Ways to Reverse the School-to-Prison Pipeline…Now

Virginia sends more schoolchildren to the criminal legal system than any other state in the nation, but it doesn’t have to be this way. We can change our policies and practices to support (rather than punish and incarcerate) youth who “act out”…youth who may be struggling. In this piece, we take a look at four promising practices to shut down the “pipeline”. 

The term “trauma-to-prison pipeline” (a.k.a. “school-to-prison pipeline“) is used to describe the increasing pattern of contacts between students and the juvenile and adult criminal justice system as a result of practices implemented by educational institutions. This system leaves students as young as the age of four susceptible to suspension, detention, and other punishments that could  lead to a life of incarceration and captivity.

Destiny, then an eighth grader at Lyons Community School in Brooklyn, New York, was fortunate enough to be attending a school that saw a need for a change. When she got into an altercation with another student that resulted in her throwing her teacher’s jacket out of the classroom window, Destiny would likely have faced detention or suspension—had she been enrolled in a typical middle school. Destiny’s school handled the situation differently – through restorative justice.

This gave Destiny the opportunity to stand before a “justice panel” comprised of four of her peers who took the time to listen to her story and then determine how best to address the harm done. Destiny was able to reflect on her actions, apologize to her victims, and improve her community without instantly being criminalized because of one incident. Restorative justice has helped Lyons Community School reduce their suspension rate by more than 20%. Check out these promising ways to reduce or eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline.

  • 1: Practice Restorative Justice

Not only is restorative justice a way of holding students accountable for what they have done, but it also opens the door for positive reinforcement. Students like Destiny have the opportunity for reconciliation with those they may have harmed through their actions. Many schools have dramatically reduced their number of suspensions by using restorative justice tools to handle nonviolent offenses as it is a better opportunity to get to the root of the initial problem and change the behavior.

  • 2: Enforce Less Police Punishment

The presence of School Resource Officers (SROs) has greatly increased in recent years. Many students make their first contact with the criminal legal system because of interactions with SROs and typically because of nonviolent offenses. Less involvement from SROs in the discipline of students for nonviolent offenses has the possibility of lowering the chances of troubled students falling into a cycle of suspension and incarceration. If police are in schools, reducing the pipeline requires limiting the role of police to public safety, rather than enforcing school discipline.

Counselors not cops



  • 3: Improve Staff-to-Student Ratio

Suspension and incarceration are correlated; being removed from school increases a student’s chances of being incarcerated – and ultimately dropping out of school altogether. Virginia averages 13.2 students per teacher in elementary and secondary schools (the overall U.S. average is 15.5-to-1). This isn’t a bad starting point, but because of how crucial school counselors can be in a student’s life, improving the counselor-to-student ratio should also be a priority. The American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of 250-to-1, however during the 2013-14 school year, Virginia schools averaged 381-to-1.

  • 4: Place Less Emphasis on Standardized Tests

When students’ primary measurement of success is determined by test scores,  they may be likely to become disengaged from their education. Disengagement often leads to lower grades, disruptive behavior, and often dropping out. Preparing students to pass a test instead of preparing them to succeed in life could ultimately be preparing students for the school-to-prison pipeline.

What effect do you think these changes could have on incarceration rates? What other ways do you think the school-to-prison pipeline can be reversed? Let us know in the comments!

Ki’ara Montgomery is a Senior at Virginia Commonwealth University with plans to graduate in May 2017. She is obtaining a bachelor’s degree in public relations, and minors in business and gender, sexuality, and women’s studies. While in school, she has had opportunities with VCU AmeriCorps, Culture4MyKids, VCU School of Education, and the Richmond Raiders. She is currently interning with the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance with a focus in development, policy, and communications.

This article is part of the Action Alliance’s blog series on Virginia’s Trauma-to-Prison-Pipeline.

The Trauma-to-Prison-Pipeline (aka “School-to-Prison-Pipeline”) fails young people who are experiencing high levels of toxic stress and/or trauma by responding in overly punitive ways to youth who exhibit normal reactions to trauma and toxic stress.

Youth of color and youth with disabilities are particularly targeted for disproportionately high levels of heavy-handed, punitive responses to vague and subjective infractions in school, such as “defiance of authority”, or “classroom disruption”. Viewed from a trauma-informed lens, these same behaviors may signal youth who are suffering and struggling with ongoing effects of trauma.

 The Action Alliance believes that everyone deserves racially equitable responses that are compassionate and trauma-informed, and which build individual and community assets.




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