Help Beautify the Alliance

The Action Alliance is moving to a new location and you can help us create a welcoming space, stay environmentally healthy, display the Art of Surviving permanently, and keep the O2 flowing…

Click here to support our new environment:  Move the Alliance!!!

1. The Art of Surviving is a favorite exhibit and we want to be able to install it permanently in the office. We need some help with funding the installation. An $1000 gift creates a beautiful gallery in our new site of survivor art.

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picture: IdealKIt

 

2. Keeping It Cool: The Alliance needs a new fridge, with the increase in hotline staff and 24 hour services we will have more people serving our members. We are seeking to raise $800 for a large size fridge.

3. Welcoming You: We will have an entryway to welcome folks and need to furnish it. Comfy chairs, a table, and some greenery should do it. With a $500 donation, you can help us decorate!

 

4. Let’s Meet in Style:  We will have a separate library and meeting room now, so when you visit to attend meetings or to browse our library you can meet or read in comfort. $100 purchases one chair and we need 12 of them!

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5. Blinded by the Light: The Hotline will have more windows in our new spot and need blinds to help with privacy. $50 donations will be added together to bring privacy to our hotline team.

6. Gold for Green, Help us be green in our cleaning!  You can donate $25 a month to help with cleaning products. The Action Alliance staff is stepping up to do the cleaning themselves and we want to be green while doing it!

 

 

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

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email kmccord@vsdvalliance.org

The Power of Advocacy

In Virginia, sexual and domestic violence agencies (SDVAs) utilize a system called VAdata to capture information about the services they provide and the needs of people who access those services. For folks less familiar with VAdata, it is an incredibly useful data collection system that leads many an advocate to groan (show of hands if you love filling out data forms…anyone?) Although data collection can feel burdensome to advocates busily providing crisis intervention, counseling, and support to survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence, it is an often under-rated tool for advocacy.

Advocacy Works-FINAL11x22-2.jpgSo, what does VAdata have to do with advocacy? Since 2009, VAdata has included a data collection component, called Documenting Our Work, that tracks information on the range of services provided by SDVAs and the impact these services have on survivors and communities statewide. Documenting Our Work is unique in that survivors have the opportunity to tell us in their own words how their lives have been affected by the advocacy they have received from Virginia’s SDVAs.

This summer, the Action Alliance looked at the Documenting Our Work data from the past 5 years and the results resoundingly affirmed what we already knew to be true: ADVOCACY WORKS. Survivors consistently report that SDVAs help them build trust and restore hope. The overwhelming majority of survivors tell us they receive the help they need, whether that be help finding safe and affordable housing, help with immigration concerns, or help addressing emotional needs in the wake of traumatic life events.

Advocates are on the ground each and every day providing vital services to survivors and may not always get to hear about how powerful and life-changing is their work. We want advocates to know that, through Documenting Our Work, survivors consistently report that these services are making a huge impact in their lives. Don’t take my word for it – here are just a few examples of what survivors have said:

  • “The staff has shown me unending kindness and helped me better accept myself in this situation.”
  • “I know I am not alone.”
  • “They left me feeling empowered.”
  • “They are very positive and helpful people here. I wouldn’t be where I am today without their help.”

Want to see the data? We created this cool infographic to illustrate the power of advocacy in Virginia.

Kristen Pritchard is Prevention and Evaluation Coordinator at the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance, Virginia’s leading voice on sexual and domestic violence. She received her B.S. in Psychology and Human Services from Old Dominion University in 2012 and her Master of Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2015. Kristen travels across the state of Virginia to provide training and technical assistance to organizations on various issues such as reproductive coercion, healthy sexuality, and trauma-informed advocacy.

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

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

Kristi visits centers across Southwest Virginia

One of the more exciting roles of the Executive Director of the Action Alliance is to visit the member sexual and domestic violence agencies. This is one important way we keep in touch with what is happening in our cause area across the Commonwealth. I decided to share my latest trip to Southwest Virginia with you.

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Tamy with Ms. Kitty

Monday: 

It is early afternoon and I am pulling up next to a huge, red Victorian house in Covington, Virginia. Tamy Mann, Executive Director, meets me in the parking lot, and it is not too long before Miss Kitty, the “Deputy Director,” joins us. Tamy and Miss Kitty give me a tour of the playground that was recently updated by the Rotary Club and then take me over to a garage/shed that is being converted into a group room, a play space for teens, and with the help of some community grant funds, new office space to accommodate a rapidly expanding staff.

Thanks to new federal Victims Of Crime Act (VOCA) funding administered by Virginia’s Department of Criminal Justice Services money that comes from criminal fines and fees converted into vital victim services—Safehome Systems in Covington will have 24-hour staff on-site for the first time EVER. Those staff will welcome, support and counsel survivors in a warm and welcoming space thanks to Tamy and many members of the community who have worked hard over the past three years to complete major renovations to the shelter and offices and major improvements to the services offered throughout Craig and Bath counties. I spend a few hours with Tamy and her staff—and then leave them as they prepare from more interviews for nighttime and weekend staff. I head south and west…headed to Bristol on Tuesday.

A side note:  when you have been driving on country roads and have no idea where you are, but you are trusting your GPS, and then your GPS is telling you to turn on a country road that has a big, big sign that says “GPS not advisable on this route” what do you do??!

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Bristolopy

Tuesday:

Stephanie Poe, Executive Director of the Crisis Center greets me in the Center’s offices which are located firmly on the Virginia side of the VA/TN line that runs through Bristol. Stephanie heads up a small but mighty staff who are delivering a diverse set of services meeting a wide range of community needs. In addition to providing sexual violence services the agency operates a regional suicide hotline, manages a service that provides support to home-bound elderly and disabled adults, and fills community gaps for other crisis and support services, including the current support group for autism spectrum families. They do all of this with the help of a large and diverse group of volunteers and “Experience Works” employees who are all over the age of 55.

As I am leaving Stephanie shares the plans for their newest fundraiser: a new and improved version of “Bristolopoly!” As someone who LOVES Monopoly and has fond memories of weekend games that lasted for hours, this is just TOO COOL!

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Michelle Hensley

Wednesday:

Two visits today!! The weather is still beautiful, and the drive from Bristol to Gate City takes me through some beautiful countryside. There are three big highlights to this leg of my journey. The first is hearing about the plans Michelle Hensley, Executive Director of Hope House, is making after receiving a significant increase in state and VOCA funding. Hope House will be expanding to add sexual violence services—for the first time ever in this part of Virginia!!! Overall the staff size will double—making it possible to add a wide range of services for children and adults and making those services available 24 hours a day. Funds will also be applied to leasing a new outreach office—and moving staff offices out of the shelter will make space for 10 additional beds, which will truly be a blessing in this community where the shelter has been full since March!

The second highlight of this trip was meeting some of the new Hope House staff—what an awesome, passionate group of advocates. And the third highlight had to be the pastries.  They have one heck of a bakery in Gate City!!

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Hope House Play Space

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Marybeth Adkins and Kristi Van Audenhove

From Gate City I traveled down the road to Norton to meet with Marybeth Adkins, Executive Director of Family Crisis Support Services (FCSS). FCSS is another agency that is providing a wide range of community services—both sexual and domestic violence services, prevention education, and homeless prevention and shelter services. Sexual and domestic violence services are also expanding in this southwest community as a result of state and federal funding increases:  FCSS will be adding children’s services and like many other agencies, the funds also made it possible to reach the level of 24/7 staffing that ensures that survivors can reach a trained advocate any time of the day or night.

I enjoyed learning about a few unique partnerships that are working well in Norton. One of those partnerships is with a local movie theater that advertises the hotline number during each movie, provides movie tickets for shelter residents, and collaborates with FCSS to make safe space available for survivors. Family Crisis Support Services was also gearing up for a fun fall fundraiser while I was there—a flag football game between the Sheriff’s office and the fire department!!

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Jennifer Bourne

Thursday: 

Thursday morning I arrive at the Clinch Valley Community Action Agency just as Jennifer Bourne, Director of Family Crisis Services, arrives for work.  She takes me on a quick tour of the shelter (a spacious and well designed space that seems to be bustling this morning!) before heading up to her office. As I sit down in Jennifer’s office I am delighted by her bulletin board—a wonderful collection of posters, flyers, bumper stickers and more that provide a visible herstory of the movement!!

Perhaps most impressive of all is a flip chart page that is posted across the room with no fewer than 25 activities that are planned for October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Family Crisis Services has a high level of commitment to educating their community –about the issues of sexual and domestic violence, about the resources that are available, and about healthy relationships.  From a Porch Light Campaign to a PJ party—there is something for everyone!!jenniferbulletinboardsmaller

The new state and VOCA funds are making it possible for Family Crisis Services to expand sexual violence prevention programming from the high school to the middle school, add the service of sheltering pets, and provide professional mental health counseling for trauma survivors who need that vital service. There will also be 4 new staff at the shelter—making 24-hour staff available for the first time!!

From Tazewell I head north and east to visit the Women’s Resource Center of the New River Valley (WRC) in Radford. It is always a pleasure to see my long-time friend Pat Brown and to hear about how programs are evolving at the Women’s Resource Center. The Women’s Resource Center is one of Virginia’s very first sexual and domestic violence agencies and has been a leader in the field since those very early days. I spend some time with Pat talking about an emerging concern of Executive Directors across the state—how to bring their agencies into compliance with the new federal overtime rules by December 1. For agencies that have relied upon advocates to work flexible hours, to be on-call on weekends and overnight, to accompany survivors to the hospital and to court and to stay with them as long as they want and need an advocate, even when that is 6, 10, 12 hours or more the new overtime rules may be very costly to implement. Directors are balancing fair labor practices, which they value highly, with strong advocacy and support for survivors, which they value highly as well!

tazewellsmallerEven in this agency with nearly 40 staff, the VOCA funds and the state funding increases are making a difference. WRC has added Justice System Navigators to work on behalf of survivors in each of the localities they serve, a campus Outreach Specialist to provide dedicated services to students, and other outreach staff who will expand the reach of the agency—including connections with the LGBTQ community.  This was a great way to wrap up my trip—a cold beverage, some yummy nachos (thank you Laura Weaver), and a sense of having come full circle.

Kristi VanAudenhove is the Executive Director of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. She has been a leader in coalition work, advocacy and policy for nearly 40 years. 

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

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

Statewide Hotline Launch

Sexual and intimate partner violence are serious public health and safety issues. While huge strides have been made in our response to sexual and intimate partner violence in the past 30 years, many victims suffered decades of silence, fear, and isolation in a society that failed to acknowledge the seriousness of violence against women. With limited social support and little resources, survivors had few options for safety and support. Confidentiality and privacy are an essential element to providing safety and respectful advocacy services. Rape crisis and domestic violence hotlines quickly became a vital, confidential resource for survivors to share their stories, seek help, and organize for change. Hotlines continue to be a vital service for breaking through the silence and isolation and connecting individuals to resources and essential services.

We are celebrating the re-branding and expansion of our Statewide Hotline. The Statewide Hotline provides direct access 24/7/365 to experts with specialized training in sexual and domestic violence who provide lifesaving, trauma-informed services and practical tools for safety and healing.

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Within our Statewide Hotline, we host the LGBTQ Helpline in collaboration with the Virginia Anti-Violence Project, the PREA hotline in collaboration with the Department of Corrections, and serve our 64 member Rape Crisis Centers and Domestic Violence Shelters to host or back up their hotlines.

Virginia Family Violence and Sexual Assault Hotline – 1 (800) 838-8238 | 24/7
Confidential chat  … Text (804) 793-9999
LGBTQ+ Partner Abuse & Sexual Assault Helpline – 1 (866) 356-6998

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

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

 

We Can Do Hard Things

 In the wake of recent headlines, you may be asking yourself, like many of us: What can I do? Where do I start?

 Violence against African-Americans is not new – but these days it is in the forefront of the media and our growing collective conscious. We, as Virginians, can look back across history and see the cumulative effects of trauma experienced by African-Americans. We see this compounded over time and connected to experiences of and responses to sexual assault and domestic violence. We wonder about our capacity as individuals, as advocates, as communities to make lasting change, to create space for healing. We think – this is too big, too hard. We think, what can I possibly do anyway?

Our response is this – everyone can do something. Not everyone can or will march in rallies. Not everyone will work with legislators and policymakers. Not everyone will write inspired editorials that capture national attention. But everyone can do something.

i can do hard things       ***********************

We invite you to commit, right now, to spending August 10-12 in Richmond with us at The Warmth of Other Suns conference.

This groundbreaking conference is the first of its kind in Virginia and is a must-attend for anyone working in the anti-violence field. It is not limited to people of specific ethnic or racial identities and it is not limited to people who are far along in anti-oppression work.

You will learn. You will think. You will engage. You will be inspired. You will consider again and again (and then re-consider) the connections between racism, oppression, privilege, and violence towards our African-American communities in Virginia.

And by doing all of these things, you play a vital role in preventing, healing, and ending the violence that has afflicted our communities for far too long.

We look forward to a time of deep learning, connecting, reflecting, and healing together with a diverse and thoughtful group of participants.

Please join us – be a part of something bigger than yourself and take action with us today.

Warmthofothersuns.org

richard wright

To check out other training opportunities, click here.

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

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

Supporting Survivors – A Hotline Responder Blog

It is July 1st, 2016 on a humid summer morning in Richmond, Virginia. Staff and hotline workers are gearing up for a special day at the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. Today, for the first time in over 30 years, the 24/7 Virginia Family Violence and Sexual Assault Hotline is being answered solely here in Richmond, Virginia at the Action Alliance. Prior to this date The Action Alliance shared responsibility of answering the hotline with Project Horizon in Lexington, Virginia.

The day starts quiet as my coworker and I arrive at 7:45 to start our day. I call Project Horizon staff one last time to check for messages from the overnight shift. The overnight hotline staff worker expresses to me how busy of a night it was and wished the Action Alliance all the best with the hotline. I expressed my gratitude towards her and for the entire staff at Project Horizon for answering the hotline and supporting us.

My coworker and I unforward the lines and log into ICAROL, the system that allows us now to chat and text with survivors 24/7.  I made a cup of coffee, took a deep breath, and prepared for the busy day.

 

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The day starts off with a few calls here and there from domestic violence/ sexual assault programs across the state taking their lines back and checking for messages. I hear my coworker take a call from a survivor checking in for shelter in the Chesapeake region. She talks to her, gets her information, and calls the on call for the program in that area to relay the information that this survivor is in need of shelter.

Outside of the hotline room I hear the commotion of my colleagues getting ready to present a webinar to the new and existing programs that wish to utilize our hotline services. Currently the Statewide hotline answers for over 20 programs, which will increase with the signing on new programs starting July 1st.

The afternoon quickly approaches and I receive a call from a survivor of intimate partner violence who had questions about how to get a protective order. I listen to her story, provide emotional support, answer her questions and explain the process of obtaining a protective order, and safety plan with her. I also provide her with the number to her local domestic violence program and let her know what services they could provide to her to offer her additional support and encourage her to reach out to an advocate if she feels comfortable.

As our conversation begins to wrap up I hear my coworker answer the PREA line. PREA stands for Prison Rape Elimination Act and allows us to speak to incarcerated individuals who are experiencing sexual harassment or sexual assault. My coworker listens to his story, informs the caller what the PREA line does, collects his information about the harassment he is experiencing from a correctional officer, gets his consent to make a PREA report.

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My coworker and I document our calls in our call sheet and VADATA and starting chatting about what we are going to eat for lunch. Our conversation quickly becomes interrupted by a call coming in from the LGBTQ line.  In addition to the PREA and statewide hotline, we operate a 24/7 hotline for LGBTQ survivors of intimate partner violence and sexual assault.

While I am on the phone, my colleague receives another call from a survivor from the Fairfax area who was recently sexually assaulted by her boyfriend.  When I hang up from the LGBTQ line I almost immediately get a call from someone in the Virginia Beach area looking for shelter. However, this time it was single female looking for shelter due to homelessness. My tummy growled as I connected her to local homeless services and shelters in her area. While we are a hotline for survivors of violence we get many calls that are not related to violence and still are a resource for those folks.

We quickly eat our lunches at our desk, talk about our pets, and discuss who is working the late night and overnight shifts for our first official weekend that is 24/7. We talk about our plans for the 4th of July Holiday. I let my coworker know that I am working July 4th among many of my other colleagues as well.  Working on a 24/7 hotline for survivors requires willingness of staff to work holidays and weekends that are often spent with families and friends.

The day continues in this fashion for the 8 hours that I am scheduled to work. My coworker and I receive calls, chats, and texts from survivors from survivors, family, friends, and professionals from all over the state seeking support for the violence they or someone they know have experienced.

Our work on the hotline is not always straightforward or easy, it is full of complexities. We hear about pain, anger, trauma, and sadness on a daily basis but our role is critical. We offer compassionate and trauma informed services and crisis intervention to callers around the clock and I am honored and privileged to work with survivors and the incredible the hotline team at the Action Alliance.

 

To reach the hotline call: 1.800.838.8238

To text us text: 1.804.793.9999

To chat: http://www.vadata.org/chat/

To call the LGBTQ hotline call: 1.866.356.6998  (Please note that you can also reach the LGBTQ line through our chat and text feature as well).

Jennifer Gallienne is a Senior Hotline Crisis Specialist and Outreach Specialist here at the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. She has worked at the Action Alliance for 3 years and supports anti-violence work through other community organizations as well. 

 

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

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

 

New Marriage Age Law Equals Better Protections for Thousands

Over the last 10 years in Virginia, thousands of children were married, as young as 13 years old; 90% were girls, and 90% of the time they married adults, who were sometimes decades older.

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news.vawnet.org

The only barrier between them and a marriage license? A clerk’s rubber stamp based on parental consent or, for those under age 16, parental consent + pregnancy. There was no age floor, and no safeguards against forced marriage or other abuse or exploitation.

But as of July 1, when a new law goes into effect, young people will be enabled to make their own decisions about marriage, to advocate for themselves, and to have the opportunity to lead healthy and fulfilling lives.

The new law responds to a long list of urgent concerns flagged by advocates during the legislative process. These include:

  • Forced marriage is a serious problem in the U.S. that impacts many adolescent girls;
  • Child marriage can result in devastating, lifelong harm;
  • Girls aged 16-19 are at heightened risk of abuse;
  • All of the marriage licenses granted to children under age 15, and most of those granted to pregnant 15-17 year olds, sanctioned statutory rape as defined in Virginia;
  • Age 16 is the minimum age in Virginia to petition a court to be considered a legal adult (“emancipated”), marriage does not automatically emancipate minors, and unemancipated minors do not have the same rights as an adult to protect themselves in case of abuse (e.g., to seek a protective order or go to a shelter); and
  • Minors who are abused by their partners instead of their parents are outside of Child Protective Services’ jurisdiction in Virginia.

Given all these data points, Virginia’s current marriage age laws fly in the face of common sense and Virginia’s other laws and policies to protect children.

Today, if Virginia’s minimum marriage age laws were represented as an equation, they might read: Zero legal protection + minimal legal rights = extreme vulnerability. That’s an equation that results in serious consequences to girls’ health, safety, and well-being.

The new law will ensure that only individuals age 18 or older, or emancipated minors, can marry in Virginia.

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Beth Halpern, Hope Kestle, Vivian Hamilton, Jeanne Smoot, Kristine Hall, Rebecca Robinson, Kristi VanAudenhove, Delegate Jennifer McClellan

Companion reform bills (HB 703/ SB 415) were successfully championed this legislative session by Delegate Jennifer McClellan (D) and Senator Jill Vogel (R), and strongly supported by a broad coalition led by the Tahirih Justice Center in partnership with the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance and Prevent Child Abuse Virginia.

Key provisions include:

Procedural safeguards

  • 16 or 17 year olds seeking to emancipate in order to marry will petition a juvenile and domestic relations judge, who will hold a hearing, issue written findings, and can order a Department of Social Services investigation or issue other orders as appropriate;
  • the minor will be appointed an attorney (guardian ad litem, or “GAL”); and
  • if the petition is granted, the minor will be given the rights of a legal adult.

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Substantive criteria
To grant the petition, the judge must find that:

  • the minor is not being forced or coerced to marry;
  • the parties are sufficiently mature;
  • the marriage will not endanger the minor (taking into account age differences and any history of violence between the parties, as well as criminal convictions for crimes of violence or crimes against minors); and
  • the marriage is in the minor’s best interests – but very importantly, neither pregnancy nor parental wishes is sufficient to establish “best interests.”

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Improved protections for children from being forced into marriage, and from the many other risks and harms of child marriage

This is tremendously important progress, but we need your help to make sure this new law actually works as intended:

  1. Spread the news! Talk about the new law when you present to schools or youth audiences. Share it with family lawyers, GALs, social workers, CASA advocates, and other children’s advocates with whom you work.
  2. Monitor implementation! If judges and GALs do not do a vigilant job, or teens are too afraid to disclose in court what is really happening, or abusive parents or partners try to evade the new law, a vulnerable teen’s next phone call may be to your agency.
  3. Share stories with us! We are working with national partners to urge that child marriage be eliminated in every U.S. state. Knowing how this new law is working (or what snags it hits in implementation) will not only be crucially important to enable us to course-correct as needed in Virginia, but also to drive reforms in other states.

To learn more about the alarming data-points that built momentum behind this new law, see our earlier blog post: “Empowering Girls in Virginia to Choose If, When and Whom to Marry” (January 11, 2016). Please contact Jeanne Smoot at the Tahirih Justice Center, jeanne@tahirih.org or 571-282-6161, for more info or to share your experiences.

Jeanne Smoot is the Senior Counsel for Policy and Strategy at the Tahirih Justice Center, where for over a decade she has helped lead innovative advocacy initiatives to reduce vulnerabilities of immigrant women and girls to violence and to empower them as survivors.

 

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

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

Advocacy Day with NNEDV

That day the sun was out and the wind was blowing hard, but underneath the capitol you would not know it. It was the day that Hillary Clinton was named the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party for President of the United States, that Prime Minister Modi of India was visiting Washington, and that the powerful and articulate survival letter published in response to the Stanford sexual assault trial on BuzzFeed was circulating among the public consciousness. I was there for National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) Advocacy Day, along with other advocates from across Virginia to meet with our State Representatives. I felt inspired to be part of the communication process while seated with strong and committed women long at work and dedicated to using their voices advocating for those experiencing violence as a very real part of their daily lives.

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courtesy NNEDV

Come the new fiscal year, the additional funding made available will hugely affect available services that have previously been lacking. We both thanked our representatives for their part and expressed the importance of stabilizing future funding. Once survivors are able to access these essential services it would be detrimental to cut them off again as the budget fluctuates from year to year. Advocates involved in local programs were able express just how these resources are going bridge the gap for the survivors in their own communities on the ground. For example: did you know that previously there was only one dedicated therapist for sexual assault in Fairfax County with a population of over one million? Did you know that in South West Virginia there was only one court advocate for the region commuting hours in a day from one court house to the next and being forced to deny support to countless survivors? This will change for the better with new funding, Charlottesville as well as its’ surrounding counties will be able to engage in prevention work for the first time in a long time.

There is still much to be done. The tone of some meetings were most concerned with instances of false accusations of rape or how our cause threatens gun accessibility, conversations that demonstrated why we were there. We are still forced to turn away many seeking services– on one day in Virginia we turned away 170 families due to a lack of funding. We also face the issue of separating the needs of survivors from the general homeless population, when it comes to shelter policies. Striving to keep survivors in their homes when violence or assault is occurring, or realistically getting a plan in place within the 30 days’ time allotted for emergency shelter, is impractical for those we serve. Transitional housing allows for continuation of the supportive services this population requires, whether it be due to ongoing legal cases, pressing health concerns, or newly gained control over personal finances. The next fiscal years’ funding has not yet passed. It is being held up due in part, to “controversial” LGBTQ issues that are attached. Little time is left before break and then campaigning will begin for the upcoming election. In years like these it may be best to hope that the bill from last year carries through, and know that so much relies on those who occupy the seats in house, senate, and the presidency.

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Sen. Leahy and Sen. Crapo – picture courtesy of NNEDV

Charlotte Hoskins is an intern in Development, Communication, and Policy at the Virginia Action Alliance. She is an advocate for caring about human diversity as much as biodiversity and allowing people to tell their stories. She has volunteered and worked with organizations dedicated to empowering community. 

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

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

 

Experiencing DO YOU

Walking into a room for the first time, not knowing what to expect or who will be there—these are feelings participants have used to describe what it is like–annoyed, angry, and tired [from being in school all day]. Yet, because they were either court-ordered, referred by the school or based on assessment results, made to attend, they were one of the first participants of the Action Alliances new teen campaign: DO YOU, being held at OPTIONS in Culpeper, Virginia.

OPTIONS is a program designed to serve less serious offenders in an effort to reach teens before they become entangled in such things as negative peer relationships, substance abuse, and criminal activity . In 2013, OPTIONS was selected as one of our pilot sites to evaluate the effectiveness of DO YOU, a prevention initiative to address youth violence by confronting its root causes and enhancing protective factors to promote positive development and healthy relationships using creative expression. There are two components to DO YOU.  The first phase, consists of 10 sessions in small, similar gender groups of 8-10 teens. The second phase is DO SOMETHING which is a cumulative community level strategy designed and executed by the teen group members.

The success of DO YOU is so reliant on the facilitator/participant relationship, that the Action Alliance devotes two full days to train facilitators interested in implementing this program.

Wanda Anderson, the facilitator at OPTIONS was one of the first facilitators to become trained and certified.

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As the one at OPTIONS who is called on when youth are “having a hard time” adjusting to family or school life, Wanda knows firsthand how important it is to develop this relationship right from the start. Knowing the resistance she would face, Wanda set the tone for group participation by providing snacks and drinks, playing upbeat music and displaying a colorful array of art materials used throughout the program to illicit some curiosity about what this group will entail. As the teens relaxed their defenses a bit to enjoy the snacks, Wanda engaged them in light-hearted conversation while also talking up the program to alleviate some of their worries.

Once everyone arrived and it was time for the first session to begin, the teens were engaged in a group ice breaker activity by completing such statements as:

  • A strength or talent I bring to this group is…
  • Something I’ve always wanted to try is…
  • My all-time favorite movie is…
  • Something I wish people knew about me is…

Wanda further connected with each participant by validating their responses, asking open ended questions and sharing some of her own experiences- including some of her favorite parts of a movie mentioned. Initial feelings of discomfort were soon replaced by laughter echoed throughout the room.

20130207_180537The teens were more engaged and after completing the YOU-niverse activity, became more comfortable with each other based on commonalities that have been presented through volunteer sharing. What could initially be regarded as inhibition and resistance over the course of a couple of hours was turned into “connectedness” and “thought provoking and sometimes difficult” conversations that continued for the remainder of their time together in DO YOU.

After completing both phases of DO YOU, the teens described their experience as fun, having changed how they communicate with others and the realization that they were not the only ones dealing with stuff. While our male identified participants in other pilots needed a little more encouragement to engage in the art process, this group, which was comprised of self-identified females, all loved working in their ‘zines—. This was evident as they each took pride in showing off their finished product at an art exhibit held as part of their DO SOMETHING event. When I asked the teens about their facilitator, Wanda, the teens had nothing but good things to say. However, it was the response from one particular teen that defines, to me, what it means to be a great facilitator: ” Mrs. Wanda noticed things about me, like…if I changed my hair….or had on a different pair of shoes…it’s like…she saw me.”

20130207_180809When I asked Wanda about DO YOU, she immediately responded “It’s awesome! The teens are awesome!” She stated that after participating in DO YOU many friendships have developed-some positive and some negative, and, she adds, some of the teens still stay in touch with her and she is amazed to see the growth. She stated, ” they all seemed more confident and ready to tackle whatever lies in front of them.”

I have no doubt that this is, in large part, because of the relationship that was formed on day one with the facilitator. A relationship that was grounded in respect, honesty, and trust.

If you are interested in attending the next DO YOU Facilitator Certification Training being held in July 2016, please visit our website:  DO YOU Training. For more information regarding DO YOU contact Leslie Conway at lconway@vsdvalliance.org

Leslie Conway is the Prevention Coordinator for the state of Virginia. Prior to working at the Action Alliance, Leslie gained experience coordinating primary prevention initiatives at a local program and developing a peer educator program in the local high school and faith community. As someone who understands the lasting consequences of witnessing the trauma that comes with domestic violence, she is committed to finding ways to resist and prevent all forms of violence.

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

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

Secret Story of Beatriz

Susheela Varky conducted a training class on Working with Immigrant Survivors this week. Here is the story of her work with a client.  

Claudia and I sat down with Beatriz to review her Affidavit. Most of my immigrant clients who do not speak English speak Spanish. Because I do not speak Spanish myself, I am very lucky to be able to work with Claudia at the City of Richmond Office of Multicultural Affairs to be able to serve my Spanish-speaking domestic and/or sexual violence victim clients who are immigrants. Claudia is a native Spanish speaker, and she completes many of the intakes that help me determine whether victims are eligible for my free immigration legal services.

A client’s Affidavit is her story of abuse and of how she came to the United States. It is essential to a successful immigration visa application. In Beatriz’s case, as with many of my Spanish-speaking clients, she wrote her Affidavit on her own. Then, Claudia translated it from Spanish into English for me and for the visa application itself. All documents, even passports and birth certificates, in an immigrant visa application must be in English or accompanied by an English translation.

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After I read the English translation of Beatriz’s Affidavit, we scheduled a three-way meeting. I think this is the best way to ask clarifying questions of the client; so, I may do my job—namely, to make the Affidavit flow and compel a government reviewer to grant the visa request, and yet truly depict my client’s story in her own words.

I was sitting at Claudia’s computer with her translation of Beatriz’s Affidavit on the screen. Claudia and Beatriz were across the desk from me. Claudia interpreted my questions to Beatriz. Beatriz answered them. I typed or asked more questions. As you can imagine, this process can take more than one sitting to complete. It is not easy to talk about a person you love hurting you physically, sexually or emotionally. It is not easy to recall these details and to answer your lawyer’s questions, even if you know in your heart that your lawyer is just trying to help you. It can be traumatizing.

Beatriz was telling us about the day she went to court to testify against her abuser. (Beatriz’s immigration visa was a U visa. This type of visa encourages victims of violent crimes to report said crimes and cooperate with law enforcement to investigate the crime.) She had to walk to court. On the walk back, she was in a kind of daze, thinking about how court went and feeling exhausted.

She then told us something she herself had forgotten. On that walk home, someone had offered her a ride home. Without thinking, she got in the car. The stranger then tried to sexually assault Beatriz, just as she was returning from testifying against another man who hurt her! She somehow got out of the moving car and ran to a store to safety.

Claudia and I ran to Beatriz. We all cried together and hugged each other. Beatriz had repressed that memory for years. The things our clients have to endure are unforgivable. But the fact that they feel safe enough to share these stories and even recall a repressed memory makes me think we are doing something right and just. This makes me feel very grateful to do the kind of work I do.

Susheela Varky is the Staff Attorney for Domestic and Sexual Violence for Virginia Poverty Law Center (VPLC), the statewide legal aid support nonprofit organization. VPLC is committed to leading and coordinating efforts to seek justice in civil legal matters for lower income Virginians. Beatriz’s U visa application was approved and she is currently in the process of adjusting to Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status.

For more training on topics like these, check our Training Institute’s schedule

[1] The name, “Beatriz,” and other names in this blog have been changed to protect VPLC’s clients’ identities.

[1] Between April 1, 2010, and July 1, 2014, the Hispanic population in Virginia has grown 16.7%. http://www.coopercenter.org/demographics/age-sex-race-hispanic-town-estimates

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call804.377.0335

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org