Serving Victims, Building Trust, Restoring Hope 

National Crime Victims’ Rights Week – April 10-16, 2016

On behalf of the 65 member Sexual and Domestic Violence Advocacy agencies who are at the center of the Action Alliance, the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance is pleased to observe National Crime Victims’ Rights Week 2016.

Virginia’s Sexual and Domestic Violence Agencies served more than 20,000 victims of domestic violence last year, and more than 7,500 victims of sexual assault. Those services included shelter for 3200 adults and their 2600 children.

More than half of the victims served had reported to law enforcement.  For approximately 20% of victims the violence resulted in missing either school or work30% had to relocate as a result of the violence. One in 5 victims reported that a weapon was used during the violent incident that led them to reach out for help.

As one of the only services available 24 hours a day in every community in Virginia, Sexual and Domestic Violence agencies also responded to more than 70,000 Hotline calls. About one quarter of those calls were from individuals who were not victims of sexual or domestic violence, but who had some other urgent need—most often homelessness, or a mental health crisis.

A snapshot of an “average day” in domestic violence programs across Virginia can tell you a little bit more about how our member agencies are serving victims. The National Network to End Domestic Violence conducts an annual point in time census with domestic violence service providers nationwide. On September 16, 2015, over a 24-hour period, Virginia’s 51 Domestic Violence Programs (100% of whom participated in the census):

  • Served 1,613 victims
  • Provided emergency shelter to 267 women, 3 men, 1 transgender adult and 224 children
  • Answered 565 Hotline calls

When asked about the specific types of services that each agency provided on that single day:

    • 98% provided individual counseling or advocacy
    • 33% provided a support group
    • 50% accompanied a victim to court
    • 25% assisted a victim with a disability
    • 20% worked with a victim on an immigration advocacy issue
    • 10% provided advocacy to an LGBTQ survivor
    • 57% helped a victim to access health care or mental health care services
  • 24% worked with one or more survivors to find employment 

Sexual and Domestic Violence agencies are providing a wide range of services to diverse survivors each and every day. Of course, there is another side to this story. The census also revealed that on that same day 55 adults, with 29 children in their care, could not be sheltered because space was not available. Agencies also reported being unable to meet the full needs for legal services, counseling, housing assistance and child care on that day—with one agency reporting that the need so far exceeded their capacity that 23 victims were on a waiting list of counseling services!!

This gap between need and resources—which we first identified statewide in 2012—was further exacerbated in 2015 as 14 agencies reporting eliminating 32 direct service positions as a result of reductions in fundingWe look forward to seeing a turn around in those numbers in the upcoming year as a result of increases in both state and federal funding!!

 

     Building Trust  

Sexual and Domestic Violence Agencies are based in principles designed to build trust, empower survivors and ultimately restore hope for survivors and communities. They are trauma-informed, recognizing the short-term and long-term impact of trauma in the lives of survivors and considering the impact of environmental, community and historic trauma on those victims from marginalized communities whose personal experience is compounded by this contextual trauma.

They are asset-based, recognizing the strength within each individual and cultivating health and wellness as a part of both intervention and prevention efforts. And they are committed to “justice for all” in a deep and meaningful way—addressing the root causes of sexual and intimate partner violence and recognizing and addressing the intersections of oppression not only in our communities, but in the lives of victims who are directly impacted by sexism, racism, homophobia, anti-immigrant sentiments and other forms of bias and discrimination. If we are to be trustworthy we must embrace the inherent dignity and worth of every individual.

 

     Restoring Hope 

Survivors tell us each and every day that Sexual and Domestic Violence agencies are meeting the goal of “Restoring Hope” in their lives.  Each victim we serve has the opportunity to complete an anonymous survey that evaluates the services they received and offers an opportunity to provide feedback.

From the thousands of surveys that have been submitted over the past 3 years,  we know that 85% of victims feel more hopeful about their lives as a result of the services they received.  Survivors report:

“I neededServing Victims. Building Trust. Restoring Hope., April 10-16, 2016 support in my hardest times and she was there.”

“I was 9 months pregnant, with 3 kids.  I had been strangled and almost killed.  Because of you I didn’t give up.  You helped my keep going on…you have helped us to see that there is light out there for me and I’ll be okay.”

And from a caller to the LGBTQ Helpline

“I’m so glad that you have a service like this because I cannot talk to my friends or family members.”

All Virginians should be proud that you have created a network of “services like this,” through public funding, through your personal donations, through your contributions of time and talent as volunteers and as board members, and as dedicated advocates all across the state.  You truly are “Restoring Hope.”

 

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.

_____________________________________________________________________________

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

 

 

 

Two young women lost their lives to domestic violence in Prince William County last weekend.

Crystal Hamilton was doing what many of us do on Saturdays—she was at home with her family and making plans for her evening. She will never see her son become a teenager, graduate from high school, find the love of his life or perhaps even start a family. Her 11 year-old son has lost his mother and has endured a trauma that will forever change his relationship to his father, will forever leave him feeling unsure and unsafe. Ronald Hamilton is charged with killing Crystal, his wife.

Officer Ashley Guindon was doing what law enforcement officers do on Saturdays and every day of the week—responding to a 911 call indicating possible domestic violence. Having just started on the force, she will never know the feeling that comes with making a positive contribution to public safety. Whatever dreams she may have had for her future will never become a reality. Ronald Hamilton is charged with killing Officer Guindon as she approached his home and with shooting two other law enforcement officers who responded with her.

Crystal Hamilton is one of an estimated 50 people who will die in Virginia at the hands of their intimate partner this year. Like Crystal, most of those victims will be women killed by a current or former partner who uses a firearm.

Ashley Guindon is one of an estimated 50 law enforcement officers who will die responding to domestic violence in the United States this year. The majority of those deaths will occur as officers approach the scene…before they even have the opportunity to apply the skills they have learned for responding to domestic violence.

The media coverage and the response to these two deaths has caused me to pause and reflect in my work. Initial reports focused almost exclusively on the shootings of 3 police officers. There was immediate and heartbreaking coverage about the death of Officer Ashley Guindon and the fact that it was her first day on the job. Crystal Hamilton then became visible as coverage continued; she was often referred to as “his wife” or as “the victim” of domestic violence.

download

picture credit: Fox5DC

The law enforcement community across the Commonwealth responded swiftly and viscerally to the killing of a fellow officer. Rituals reserved for this specific tragedy were there as a support and as a public statement in the wake of this trauma. These rituals gave language to the grief felt by colleagues. And as the posts from law enforcement officers past and present appeared on my Facebook page, as the articles appeared in the news, as policy leaders spoke in the media about Officer Guindon’s tragic death, I was keenly aware that those of us in the domestic violence victim advocacy community are nearly as invisible in the public conversations that follow domestic violence homicides as Crystal Hamilton was in the coverage of this event. Perhaps because we sadly witness these horrible deaths nearly once a week across the state. Maybe we are immobilized by the weight of all of the violence and trauma and death.

I can not help but wonder what might happen if we were no longer quiet in the wake of each domestic violence homicide. What might happen if we created public and powerful rituals around each death—to bring strength to the survivors, to help us through our fear and grief, to offer hope to our communities?

Two 29-year old women lost their lives on Saturday. They lost their lives to domestic violence–to a public safety and public health scourge that is preventable. Let us all remember both of these women as we continue to work together for safe and respectful relationships for all. ALL.

Links:

“Why Crystal Hamilton’s Life Matters Too”

#CrystalHamilton

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. 

_____________________________________________________________________________

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

Working Together to Empower the Survivor.

Years in the making, Governor Terry McAuliffe recently signed into law a layer of safety for those who seek relief from the fear, intimidation and threat of lethal violence. This measure will enable individuals and families to begin rebuilding their lives outside of abusive relationships without firearms looming in the background.

12794358_10154093210146162_3860316243381674118_n

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, center, with survivor and advocate Lisette Johnson, and Del. Kathleen J. Murphy, D-Fairfax,, after signing her bill relating to removal of guns owned by persons who have a restraining order against them during a news conference at the Executive Mansion in Richmond, Va. Friday, Feb. 26, 2016. Behind him are Sen. Janet D. Howell, D-Fairfax, Sen. L. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe, Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran, and Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Prince William. Picture credit: The Action Alliance

 

This is as a significant improvement in the protective order process; celebrated by and for those who advocate for and who are survivors of intimate partner violence. Empowered by measures beyond that of possessing a piece of paper, more women will seek and follow through to make their protective orders permanent now that the law gives it bones by requiring respondents to surrender firearms within 24 hours.Police now have the leverage to seek search warrants to find and seize guns of those who do not comply, and carries with it a Class 6 Felony charge with up to five years in prison.

As a survivor, after it is all said and done, I am brought back to the simple fact I just wanted a divorce. That is all. I did not want to speak out against domestic violence. I did not dream my life’s calling was helping women make tough decisions about their futures, their safety and that of their children. I never saw myself as an activist who would be a public voice, or represent those silenced by abuse and lethal violence.

I just wanted to move forward with my life and give my children a peaceful home.

In that simple statement is the heart of what every person leaving an abusive relationship wants; to leave without event and rebuild a life without violence. This legislation provides a needed protection and is the first step in letting survivors of abuse know they are not alone now that they have backup in the legal system, and that they can move from victim to survivor, with a much lower risk of being a statistic.

12512263_10154093226786162_2532406908284713137_n

picture taken by the Action Alliance

The journey of a thousand miles has only just begun. There remains much work still to be done. We need funding for prevention and awareness. We must continue to look for new ways to keep families safe. When they are not safe, we need to have funding for adequate shelter, resources and support for survivors. Just for today, though, let us stop to rest and enjoy this victory.

Lisette Johnson is a survivor of an attempted partner homicide/suicide. She is an advocate for those experiencing domestic and sexual violence and collaborates for violence prevention education and awareness. You can read her first post on this issue published on January 25th here

 

Lisette Johnson is a survivor of an attempted partner homicide/suicide. She is an advocate for those experiencing domestic and sexual violence and collaborates for violence prevention education and awareness.  

________________________________________________________________

Note from the Action Alliance: The Action Alliance is proud to stand with Governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, as he signs historic bipartisan legislation that will increase safety for victims/survivors of ‪#‎domesticviolence‬ by prohibiting the possession of firearms for persons subject to “permanent” (max 2 year) Protective Orders.

The connection between guns and lethal domestic violence in Virginia is clear: over a 10 year period, firearms were used in more than half of all intimate partner homicides in Virginia.

We applaud the Governor’s willingness to reach across the aisle to enact common sense gun legislation to reduce lethal gun violence.

 

_________________________________________________________________
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

Just Released: Our 2016 General Assembly Crossover Report

THE GOOD NEWS

Many of the Action Alliance legislative priorities have crossed over, including:
–comprehensive statewide protocols for physical evidence collection (PERKs);
–strengthening laws on age of consent to marry;
–prohibiting firearm possession when subject to a “permanent” Protective Order;
–ensuring fair and equal treatment in housing and employment, and;
–strengthening/clarifying responses to campus sexual assault.

THE BAD NEWS

Several potentially very harmful bills that we strongly oppose have also crossed over, such as:
–circumventing existing concealed weapons protocols that could potentially add more firearms to volatile domestic violence situations, which evidence links with greater risks for lethality, and;
–policies that endorse discrimination and erode/block access to economic security, safety, and equality for LGBTQ communities.

Find full details in our 2016 General Assembly Crossover Report.

There’s still time to make an impact on legislation, whether you support or oppose.
Reach out to your representatives and let them know what you think! Find your legislators here.

Kristine Hall is the Policy Director of the Action Alliance. 

_________________________________________________________________

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

Why Mandatory Testing of PERKs Matter

Kristine Hall – Policy Director

_____________________________________________________

…and why the conversation cannot stop there.

Victims may choose to have a special medical exam following a sexual assault to preserve possible evidence and receive medical care. This evidence, often called a “rape kit” is called a Physical Evidence Recovery Kit (P.E.R.K. in Virginia). There’s been increased attention on “rape kit” backlogs and the success that some states are having in identifying serial offenders when they tested kits that had not previously been submitted by law enforcement.

Recently, Virginia passed legislation to conduct an inventory of untested PERKs and found over 2,300 untested kits (End the Backlog). There are plans underway for processing the kits and creating recommendations to avoid future backlogs—including mandatory submission and testing policies. While these efforts are important, our work cannot stop here. PERKs are just one aspect of an investigation. These efforts alone will not restore faith in a system that has not served victims well and that many are reluctant to use.

We must thoroughly examine the beliefs and attitudes behind PERKs sitting on shelves and how they impact other aspects of an investigation. The inventory didn’t just uncover untested PERKs. It showed that our criminal justice system continues to fail—more often than not– when it comes to sexual violence!

I heard Carrie Hull with the Ashland Police Department once say “there is no such thing as a ‘he said, she said’ case. A ‘he said, she said’ case is a poor investigation.” I have thought about this statement and wondered how more effective our response would be if this sentiment was the core of our criminal justice systems’ policies and practices.

Kristine Hall is the Policy Director of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. She has been engaged in sexual and domestic violence victim advocacy, training, and policy for over 20 years.

_________________________________________________________

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

 

Community Activism – The synergy of individuals, local centers, and state coalitions. 

 

This past year I have been reading stories of activism communities all over the world about interpersonal violence, rape, stalking and trafficking. The stories have similarities in the focus of gendered violence against women and transgender identified persons. The responses have been as varied as the incidents… ranging from art-based responses (Graffiti Artists), technology-based responses (Callisto: A college sexual assault reporting system), social media, (It’s On Us), journalistic responses (The Rapist Next Door), media literacy (FAAN MAIL), films (The Hunting Ground), songs (Till It Happens to You) and marching in the streets. Through the use of technology, global conversations using social media are taking place, uniting people from all over the world to join local activists attempting to make change in their communities.

For the first time ever, the conversation about rape and interpersonal violence is being held everywhere. And it’s not stopping when the Twitter chat dies out or the art exhibit is taken down. Now these conversations move rapidly from speaking out, educating the public, identifying changes needed and developing policy to improve resources, laws and funds. The conversation sparks from survivors taking agency to speak out about abuse and then moves to activism and direct action. Gone are the days where it would take years to build momentum, now it takes hours for the momentum of people engaging to reach its peak and change can be put forth within months.

This is where local centers with their community response and activism are impactful collaborators with survivors bringing their story out and helping create the changes in policy, laws and funds to work toward ending interpersonal violence, rape, stalking and harassment. A prime example here in Virginia this past, is the collaboration between survivors of rape at University of Virginia, local rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters, the Action Alliance and legislators to take the problem of rape on campus and create significant changes to laws and resources for students. Other universities joined in to show their support and help advocate, local centers around the state helped outreach their legislators to advocate and individual supporters lent their voice through social media and calls. The combined efforts of these parties kept the conversation alive and the work progressing.

campusSA-1 in 5 women_0

This is the power of community activism and the joint efforts of survivors and families, ally’s in the communities, activists with local centers, and state coalitions like the Action Alliance. This synergy can only happen with everyone involved. We must work together to keep these conversations active in order to make the change needed.

To get involved in the issues being presented in the general assembly this year, click here to see bills being presented for the 2016 General Assembly, click here to see how you can be involved and  how to communicate with your delegates and representatives, and click here to join a committee of the Action Alliance. At the Action Alliance, you can get involved in policy work, fund development, and leadership. Whatever your skill or interest is: communicating with legislators to lobby for policy change or increase in funds, being a social media activist and sharing information to bring information to the public, being an educator to local centers and allied partners to improve training, or to help raise funds in your community; you are needed.

Carol Olson is the Development Director at the Action Alliance. She was previously the Director of a local rape crisis center. She has continued to engage in community activism through her work with the Alliance and through radio at WRIR 97.3 FM. 

_________________________________________________________________

SAVE THE DATE: LEGISLATIVE ADVOCACY DAY

January 27, 2016 – 7:30am John Marshall Ballrooms, Richmond
Get Involved with Legislative Advocacy at the Action Alliance
_________________________________________________________________

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