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

The Honeycomb Retreat: Art and Activism

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

Take Action to Support Sensible Gun Control

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sample text:

Dear Members of the Virginia State Crime Commission:

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

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

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

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

Thank you,

{name, address}

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


Jonathan Yglesias is the Policy Director at the Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance where he works with a team of advocates, movement minds, attorneys, and passionate policy nerds to coordinate the Action Alliance’s public policy efforts on behalf of survivors, sexual and domestic violence agencies, and communities in Virginia seeking to improve the prevention of and response to sexual and domestic violence.

Silhouette of a group of five people hiking on rocks. Text says, "The Action Alliance's 2nd Annual Empower Challenge. October 1st-8th, 2019. Empowering Survivors and challenging communities to build solutions to sexual and domestic violence."

Are You Up for the Challenge?

“Democracy is the best revenge.” —Benazir Bhutto

Join the Action Alliance from October 1-8, for this year’s (em)Power Challenge and help us build solutions to sexual and domestic violence.  The Challenge encourages both movement and movement building to raise funds for local sexual and domestic violence agencies who provide front-line support, advocacy, and prevention programming to survivors of violence and their communities.

So, grab a group of family, friends, and/or community members to move and talk together to envision a Virginia free from violence. Pick an activity – walk, run, bike, hike, scooter, shop—that matches your group’s mobility and fitness interests. Then, get moving and have a conversation about this year’s theme: civic engagement and voting.

Group of 11 people and two dogs wearing purple EmPower Challenge t-shirts in front an Action Alliance tent.

Action Alliance Staff ready for the (em)Power Challenge in October 2018.

We need public policies that make our homes, communities, and world a more loving and connected place for everyone. To make that happen, we need engaged community members who understand how policies impact survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence. Together, we can move one step closer in our collective journey towards building inclusive, safe, and health communities in Virginia. Join us in believing in a radically hopeful future and voting to make it happen.

Not sure how to get a conversation started? As a Team Captain, you’ll get the Walk & Talk guide to help you.

Registration is just $25 per person and when you sign up, you’ll also receive a special (em)Power Challenge t-shirt to raise the visibility of your group.

Two photos side by side. Left photo is of a dog on a leash with a purple shirt. Right photo is of the same dog's back with the same purple shirt on that says, "emPower Challenge."

Addie, wearing a custom-made emPower Challenge shirt, joins the staff for its walk.

Come together in a public display of solidarity in support of survivors and a Virginia free from violence!

Register today for #empowerchallenge.

P.S. Are you registered to vote? Be sure to check your voter registration or register to vote by October 15. Each and every vote makes a difference.

Introducing Brooke Taylor, UPLC Coach!

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

What excites you about the UPLC Program?

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

What is your favorite season and why?

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

Autumn in VA

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

Oh yeah, what about the obligatory introduction stuff?

Well, if we must…

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

Chimichurri

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


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

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

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


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

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! 

Meet Elizabeth Wong, Action Alliance’s New Development Director!

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A group of  approximately 20 people sit on the steps of the U.S. Capitol Building. Two of the members of the group hold a yellow banner with black print that says, “Housing Is A Right! Asian Americans for Equality”. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Wong.

Born into a family of activists who have advocated for the rights of Asian-Americans, housing rights, and workers’ rights, my parents instilled in me a strong sense of equality, justice, and service. My childhood was shaped by civic engagement, political campaigns, and community outreach meetings. So, I’ve always known that I wanted to work in the nonprofit sector. Throughout my career, I’ve worked to advance social justice and to ensure the voices of those who are often ignored by our society and government are heard and not forgotten.

After college, I moved to Richmond and spent more than a dozen years working for the ACLU of Virginia, which became my work family. I started in communications and fund development and through the years also learned advocacy, finance, operations, and strategic planning skills. During that time, I had the pleasure of working with many talented individuals across the country who share a passion for fighting for the rights and freedoms of others. I also grew to understand that all our major social issues are interconnected—housing, healthcare, education, racial justice, economic justice, gender equity, and anti-violence work. I’m excited to be a part of an organization that sees the intersection and interplay of these areas and is committed to improving everyone’s lives.

I’m excited to be a part of an organization that sees the intersection and interplay of these areas and is committed to improving everyone’s lives.

What lights you up about fund development as a tool for social change?

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Two people staff an information table at an outdoor event while two people approach the table for information. Behind the staff is a black banner with the ACLU logo in blue and white. Elizabeth Wong is one of the staff people at the table, and is standing and speaking to the people seeking information. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Wong

Social change requires a vision for a better future and resources to work towards that vision. I enjoy fund development because it helps put all the pieces together. It’s about building connections with people and inspiring others with the work you do. Enthusiastic, passionate program staff come up with great ideas to work towards this vision of a society without violence and they need the resources to make it happen. In development and outreach, my part is to bring more friends to the movement and raise investments to implement those creative and effective programs.

Basically, I just love hearing people’s stories and encouraging them to see what’s possible in the future.

Who is your favorite artist right now?

I may have a family bias, but my favorite artist is my aunt, Tomie Arai. Ever since I was a kid I’ve enjoyed her prints and murals. I especially love her pieces that combine photos of people and places with other textures. You can see life in each piece. Her art tells such important stories.

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Photo of an art exhibit by Tomie Arai. Four circular tables are set with red plates and napkins in a large open art gallery with chairs set at each table. One feature wall is painted deep red with Asian artwork and writing in gold. On the front of each chair is a black and white photo of a person. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Wong

If you were to be transported into a fictional world/universe, where would you go?

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A cartoon image of an elephant lying on its belly, wearing glasses and reading an illustrated book. Sitting next to the elephant is a pink pig, also reading a book. A yellow bird sits atop the elephant’s head reading a book. 

As a parent to a new reader I’m currently in the land of Elephant and Piggie. I love the simplicity of it—just hanging out with a good friend.  The stories talk about loving friendship, learning to be there for each other, and making way for new friends. In a world that is chaotic and filled with negativity, it’s wonderful to be in a space filled with positivity, empathy, and compassion, even if just for a short while. (Side note: While I think being a Chinese-American woman during this time would be challenging and less than fun, I’ve always been enamored with the Gilded Age of New York City. I’m pretty sure I lived in 1880s Brooklyn in a past life and walked across the Brooklyn Bridge after it was first built.)

Featured image: photo of Elizabeth Wong, sitting with her hands clasped, smiling and listening to a group discussion. 

 


Elizabeth can be reached at ewong@vsdvalliance.org. Drop her a line and welcome her to the team!

2019 Catalyst Awards: Recognizing Leaders and Innovators in Our Work

The Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance will honor and celebrate thirteen individuals at the 2019 Catalyst Award Ceremony at Emory & Henry College on June 5 as part of a biennial statewide gathering of advocates and activists.

The Catalyst Awards encompass superior work across eight different categories, including both sexual and domestic violence work, and apply to program staff, community leaders, volunteers, and allied professionals. The group of honorees has been selected for their innovative and outstanding contributions to the field. We are delighted to honor these individuals for their exceptional and inspiring work on behalf of survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence and for their extraordinary contributions to the field of sexual and domestic violence.

A “catalyst” is one whose enthusiasm and energy precipitates significant positive change. The Catalyst Awards recognize individuals and/or organizations who have made superior contributions to improving services for survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence and creating a Virginia free of violence.

Pioneer Award

Honors one who was among the first to fight the good fight in order to improve the lives of survivors and ultimately end sexual and/or domestic violence. This lifetime achievement is reserved for someone who has worked in the movement for 20 or more years. 

2019 Pioneer Award Honoree: Kelly McCoy, Radford

Kelly McCoy, a longtime advocate at the Women’s Resource Center of the New River Valley in Radford, started working in the movement 36 years ago. Laura Beth Weaver, Kelly’s nominator for the Pioneer Award, writes, “Kelly has worked multiple positions since coming to the WRC in 1983 as a 17-year old volunteer. She coaches and mentors young volunteers and staff in a way that helps grow our system of support for victims of sexual and domestic violence in the New River Valley. Her steady presence in the shelter, her wisdom with organizational decisions and direction, and her insistence on grace and hope are a catalyst for a greater grace and hope within our community.”


Pathfinder Award

Honors an individual or group who broadens the boundaries of traditional domestic and/or sexual violence work through creative outreach to an underserved population. The nominee demonstrates a commitment to positive change, exceptional activism, and innovation in identifying survivors and providing services in marginalized communities.

2019 Pathfinder Award Honoree: Alex Weathersby, Fredericksburg

Alex Weathersby, of the Rappahannock Council Against Sexual Assault, is being honored for her work to make RCASA’s prevention program more trauma-informed, relevant to youth, and LGBTQ+ supportive. Alex’s anonymous nominator writes, “Alex has opened relationships with our area’s public schools, scout troops, four year university, and community college, along with a halfway house for previously incarcerated youth to spread prevention education efforts to a wider group of youth in our area and to allow them to participate in prevention education from multiple areas of their lives. Last year her prevention/education programs served 2,398 students in middle and high schools across five counties.”


Nexus Award

Honors an individual or agency that has created a high level of cooperation among members of the justice system and/or other systems within a local community. The nominee exemplifies the collaboration and unity of purpose in bringing together diverse individuals and disciplines to create a community that promotes safety for victims and accountability for perpetrators.

2019 Nexus Award Honoree: Brad Pugh, Warren County Sheriff’s Office

Brad Pugh is an investigator with the Warren County Sheriff’s Office. The Laurel Center’s Kelliann Harris, who nominated Brad, says, “Investigator Pugh is not only an advocate for justice in dealing with sexual assault crimes, but a pioneer in organizing and development in Sexual Assault Response Teams. Brad continues to expand his knowledge/skills in trauma-informed services, applying those techniques within the interviewing processes, and encouraging and relaying these trainings to other staff within his department and other community leaders. Whenever there is a task at hand, Brad does not steer away from it. He exemplifies all attributes of a leader to make change happen.”


Purple Ribbon Award

Honors one working specifically in the field of domestic violence for demonstrating exemplary commitment to restoring power and hope to victims who have experienced domestic violence through the provision of direct client services. The nominee excels in advocacy work by promoting empowerment which fosters healing.

2019 Purple Ribbon Award Honoree: Maria Altonen, Richmond

Maria Altonen has cultivated Project Empower in Richmond and transitioned it from a little-known entity into a unique crisis intervention, support, and advocacy team that serves Richmond’s large urban hospital. Utilizing their expansive knowledge of the Richmond area’s sexual and domestic violence agencies, offerings, limitations, and those who work in the field, Maria has developed Project Empower into the tremendous service it is today. Assisting hundreds of victim-survivors in 2018, they afforded those who had been at the most terrifying points in their lives to access shelter, legal assistance, transportation, food, housing, employment, medical and counseling, and the crucial awareness that they were not alone on their journey to recovery. Maria’s anonymous nominator says, “To enter a position in a department that was virtually unheard of and undefined, and create something that is now recognized by Commonwealth’s Attorneys, victim advocates, police officers, and most of the VCU Health system speaks volumes! Maria’s work is not just an asset in our community, but has literally saved lives.”


Teal Ribbon Award
Honors one working specifically in the field of sexual violence for demonstrating exemplary commitment to restoring power and hope to victims who have experienced sexual violence through the provision of direct client services. The nominee excels in advocacy work by promoting empowerment which fosters healing.

2019 Teal Ribbon Award Honoree: Terri Giller, Fredericksburg

Terri Giller is an art therapist who works with survivors of sexual violence at Rappahannock Council Against Sexual Assault in Fredericksburg. Through her nonjudgmental and supportive guidance, she gives survivors the tools to empower and express their own experiences on their terms. Terri’s anonymous nominator writes, “We have had former and current clients run up to our tables at events to tell us how much they loved working with her and how she has given them tools for coping, grounding, expressing, and processing their trauma. Terri also puts so much time into working with individuals and groups, without rushing people into engaging with the parts of themselves they aren’t ready to see. Terri has brought a highly specialized service into our area. Her work has brought many long-term benefits to our clients’ ability to connect and self-express. Many of her clients continue to engage in the arts community of our area after closing out their counseling.”


Blue Ribbon Award
Honors one working with children or adolescents who have witnessed or experienced domestic or sexual violence. The nominee is recognized for demonstrating exemplary commitment to restoring power and hope to young victims through direct client services. The nominee excels in advocacy work by promoting education and empowerment which fosters healing.

2019 Blue Ribbon Award Honoree: Andrew Ehrhard, Rockbridge County Sheriff’s Office

Investigator Andrew Ehrhard is a staunch supporter of the Child Advocacy Center (CAC) in Lexington, trusting and relying on the expertise of allied professionals in the CAC, always conducting his work from a “child first” philosophy. A compassionate ally to children, Andrew makes himself accessible to young survivors and their families so they feel completely supported, rather than alone. Ellen Wheeler of Project Horizon, who nominated Andrew, says, “Andrew also participates in every volunteer training at Project Horizon to ensure that all volunteers are familiar with him and are trauma-informed within the Child Advocacy Center. Andrew is devoted to making the children as comfortable as possible, consistently putting the needs of the children he serves ahead of the investigation. Andrew is a pillar in Project Horizon’s Child Advocacy Center and without his spirit and dedication we could not provide children with trauma-informed investigations.”


Hope Award
Honors an individual or team who has made a significant contribution to the prevention of domestic and/or sexual violence. Nominees will have implemented prevention initiatives that inspire communities to create future generations of healthy, safe, and respectful relationships.

2019 Hope Award Honoree: Chad Lewis, Warsaw

Chad Lewis, a preventionist working at the Haven Shelter in Warsaw, was one of the first people to institute prevention programming within the rural community of the Northern Neck. He helped create a Trauma-Informed Leadership Team, implemented numerous free community trainings, started sex education in Westmoreland County, and implemented the Safe Dates curriculum in Richmond and Northumberland Counties. Dawn Brooks of the Haven, who nominated Chad, says, “Chad not only advocates for the people in the community who have experienced or are at risk of experiencing IPV and SV, but he is also an advocate for individuals within our workplace. He is always thinking about our mission and how we can best prevent not only our clients from dealing with hardship, but also the staff. He brings up the hard conversations with compassion and love and in hopes of changing society.”


Ann Crittenden “Unsung Hero” Award
Honors an individual who works diligently and quietly behind the scenes to do what needs to be done, providing daily support, coordination, or advocacy. The nominee may be an administrator, office staff, advocate and/or volunteer who eschews the limelight, yet shows up consistently, day after day, to keep us moving forward in our efforts to eradicate sexual and intimate partner violence. The award is named in memory of Ann Crittenden, a beloved, hard-working, and loyal member of the Action Alliance staff for over 20 years, who skillfully created the beautiful stained glass catalyst awards for years and passed away in 2017.

2019 Honorees: Act. Honor. Hope. Planning Committee: Betsy Williams, Jodi Leonard, Jennifer Bottoms, Michele Holleran, Zoe Best, Shannon Heady, Claire Sheppard

Betsy, Jodi, Jennifer, Michele, Zoe, Shannon, and Claire, an all-volunteer group of fundraising go-getters, have led the fundraising planning of the Action Alliance’s annual Act. Honor. Hope. Member Celebration Luncheon for the past several years. The Committee’s anonymous nominator writes, “The group has worked tirelessly and relentlessly to support the Action Alliance’s fundraising efforts. Each year their devotion to Act. Honor. Hope. has created an amazing and memorable event. They were instrumental in the awards luncheon selling out for the first time in 2018 and in fact, the 2018 gathering proved to be a record-setting financial success for Act. Honor. Hope. Every committee member sets the bar higher for themselves each year in order to honor the award recipients and establish Act. Honor. Hope. as a major fundraiser. This committee’s dedication and loyalty is evident as they continue to work assiduously behind the scenes to do what needs to be done.”


The Catalyst Awards ceremony will be held on Wednesday June 5, 2019 at Emory & Henry College in Emory, VA as part of the “Cultivate” 2019 Biennial Retreat/Conference. Visit here to learn more and to register by May 20 for the Catalyst Award Dinner and/or the 2019 Cultivate Retreat.

Action Alliance Statement on Governor Northam’s Veto of Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Bills

The VA Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance applauds Governor Ralph Northam’s decision to veto two bills that passed this year’s General Assembly session that supported mandatory minimum sentencing for particular crimes. One of those bills, House Bill 2042, would have created a 60 day mandatory minimum sentence for a second conviction of assault and battery of a family or household member within a 10 year period. While we applaud legislators’ instincts to take crimes of domestic violence seriously and to seek victim safety, we do not believe that mandatory minimums are a real solution that protects victims of domestic violenceIn fact, mandatory minimums are a costly and simplistic tool that serve to remove judicial discretion and disproportionately impact historically marginalized communities while providing little real safety for victims or true accountability for offenders of domestic violence.

“…mandatory minimums are a costly and simplistic tool that serve to remove judicial discretion and disproportionately impact historically marginalized communities while providing little real safety for victims or true accountability for offenders of domestic violence.”

Loss of judicial discretion in sentencing, that takes all of the facts presented in a particular case into account, is one of the strongest arguments against the use of mandatory minimums. The criminal charge of assault and battery against a family or household member does not necessarily take into account a pattern of ongoing behavior that includes a broad range of crimes and offenses designed to exert power and control over an individual. Many victims do fight back in self-defense. Creating a mandatory minimum sentence can land victims of domestic violence in jail and serve to reinforce the control of the abuser.  Many judges understand this and often craft solutions to hold a victim accountable for committing a crime of assault and battery yet allow for options that recognize the broader circumstances, such as referring a victim, who has committed violence in an act of self-defense, to a domestic violence program.

We believe that working to address and change practices and procedures at the community level – such as effective enforcement of protective orders, appropriate law enforcement response to crimes of domestic violence, appropriate charging and prosecution of crimes, and a coordinated community response to this violence – is the work that recognizes the complexities of domestic violence, understands the impacts of trauma on families, and addresses real community solutions to this devastating issue.

The Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance opposes mandatory minimum sentences as a strategy to address domestic violence in the Commonwealth. Putting our resources towards real solutions like strengthening coordination of systems, creating trauma-informed, healing-centered communities, providing services to both victims and offenders that help to strengthen families, and removing guns from convicted abusers and respondents in protective order cases are all strategies that bring about real safety for victims.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our contributors:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Question 2: What is missing from the current conversation?

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

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

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

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


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

Statewide Hotline at 1.800.838.8238 | Text:  804.793.9999  | Chat

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


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

Cultivate: The 2019 Biennial Statewide Retreat for Advocates and Preventionists

“Cultivate” is defined as to foster the growth of a craft and improve skills through labor and care. For us, our craft is the work to end violence and oppression. This work happens in many places such as advocacy, prevention, policy, and other spheres we find ourselves.  To better serve survivors and our communities, we must take the time to develop new skills, challenge ourselves, and refine our practice. We must take the time to cultivate ourselves, which is why we have chosen it as the theme and our focus for the 2019 Biennial Retreat.

garden2To cultivate means to nurture and help grow. Just as gardeners or farmers tend to their plants and crops, we must tend to ourselves and care for ourselves. Just like you make sure a plant has the right amount of sunlight, the right amount of water, and the right soil, you also need to ensure you are receiving what you need.

Cultivate can mean taking a pause.  This work can stretch and challenge us. We see trauma and oppression face-to-face and its effects on ourselves, our clients, and communities. The retreat will provide space for self and community care in cultural performances, a self-care room, and other events meant to help recharge our minds and bodies.

adrienne maree brown speaks to how we grow as a collective in her book Emergent Strategy, “There is an art to flocking: staying separate enough not to crowd each other, aligned enough to maintain a shared direction, and cohesive enough to always move towards each other.” We hope as we come together for a few days of learning and expanding ourselves that we also have times of moving together and experience real collaboration among one another.

There is an art to flocking: staying separate enough not to crowd each other, aligned enough to maintain a shared direction, and cohesive enough to always move towards each other.                                   –adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy

Like previous Biennial Retreats, each person will be able to choose a track of workshops they want to participate in, and we’ve brought the spirit of cultivation into each of these spaces. For example, the prevention track is called “Cultivate Resilience” as a nod to the preventionists’ efforts in building resilience in individuals and communities to prevent sexual and intimate partner violence. Other tracks include “Cultivate Your Craft,” a 201 advocacy track, and “Cultivate Leadership,” a specialized track for leadership in your organization or agency such as executive directors or managers. The “Cultivate Community” track offers workshops on relationship building and community connection. Finally, there’s “Cultivate Wholeness,” a track focused on self and community care.

Many of us here at the Action Alliance are excited to help make the theme of “Cultivate” come to life.  We believe it is filled with connections, symbolism, and practices relevant to our statewide community of sexual and domestic violence agencies. This retreat will be a time for individuals to nurture their practice, grow in their expertise, and for our community as a whole to come and rejuvenate ourselves in the work to eliminate violence and oppression.

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CULTIVATE-SM w date location

Cultivate: 2019 Biennial Retreat | June 5-7, 2019

Emory & Henry College

Click here to learn more about workshops, scholarships, and registration. 

 


Robin Sawyer is a VCU student and MSW Intern at the Action Alliance.