It feels like a far-off and distant past, but just over a year ago, we were gearing up for a 2020 General Assembly Session that was promising to deliver on many long-overdue justice priorities for Virginians. We were excitedly advocating for proposals to reduce maternal mortality rates among Black women, expand access to the polls, and make strides towards immigrant and reproductive justice to name a few. And Virginia’s sexual and domestic violence agencies (SDVAs) had a few proposals of our own. One of these being to establish a first-ever state fund to support the primary prevention of sexual and intimate partner violence in Virginia. On this and so many of our justice priorities, we were incredibly successful.
Then COVID-19 hit. We saw state funds, including those dedicated to our prevention efforts, redirected. Emergency funds were needed to control the outbreak, to build an infrastructure for testing and patient management, to freeze evictions, and to support families and businesses in crisis. At the same time, stay-at-home orders and closures designed to protect the public from widespread infection left many sexual and domestic violence survivors isolated or trapped at home with their abusers. In many localities, our hotlines and agencies saw an initial dip in requests for service (less time alone for survivors meant less opportunity to safely access services) followed by a steady and unrelenting rise in requests. Advocates made quick and significant shifts in their work to address the complex housing, financial, and safety needs of survivors during the pandemic. Upward trends in overall hotline contacts turned into significant increases in those survivors receiving face-to-face crisis intervention, advocacy, and counseling services. In some communities, these increases reflected literally thousands more being served in 2020 in comparison to 2019.
Throughout this time, survivor advocates have been incredibly innovative and resilient: building creative housing solutions; working with funders and partners to stretch flexible funding; taking survivor services online while keeping some in person; and crafting nimble policies intended to keep advocates and survivors safe while doing it all. Advocates and communities are caring for each other fiercely and effectively, as we continue to navigate new and unknown conditions.
At the same time, we know that, just like survivors, communities will need time to heal after this collective trauma. It will take time for jobs to come back, for secure housing to be plentiful, for social services and resources to become more safely and readily available. Much of what we will be left with are conditions in which risk factors for violence have the potential to flourish. A 2017 report from the Prevention Institute describes the three most significant contributors to domestic violence perpetration as housing insecurity, lack of living wages, and barriers to obtaining health care. Prevention staff at SDVAs work in tandem with community partners to identify local needs, to address root causes and conditions that lead to violence – like housing and financial insecurity and lack of healthcare access – and to build robust programming that fosters connection and family and youth resilience as a buffer against this violence.
This is why, now, more than ever, funding for sexual and domestic violence prevention work is urgently needed to counteract the effects of the pandemic and to undo family and community risk factors for violence.
One of the most pressing and fundamental questions offered by the public health field is this: what factors and conditions in our lives, in our families, and in our society can be changed to assure positive health outcomes? Likewise, since the inception of the rape crisis and domestic violence movements, advocates and activists have asked “how can we move from victim response and safety to achieving a world where violence does not exist?”
This is the essential work of prevention staff at Virginia’s SDVAs.
They are positive forces for social change and working every day to address root causes, build protective factors, and work towards positive community and public health outcomes that help us to stop violence before it happens. For more on what, specifically, this work looks like at Virginia’s SDVAs, check out our new infographic: Prevention Programs Stop Violence Before It Happens
We believe that every Virginian has a right to food, housing, quality education, healthcare, a living wage, and safety from violence. This is the foundation for a healthy, thriving future for all. Prevention programs, led by Virginia’s SDVAs, are the cornerstones for ensuring community-wide health and resilience. It is time for our legislature to restore crucial investments in prevention. And here’s how you can help:
Talk to your legislators about the need to invest in sexual and domestic violence prevention NOW. Contacting your legislators is easy – and it becomes even easier when you use our handy Legislative Advocacy Guide and our talking points and infographics – you can reach out via email, pick up the phone, or make contact on Facebook, Twitter, and in some cases, Instagram. You can find contact info for your legislators here.
The more our policy leaders hear from us about this issue, the more likely they are to take action and to restore these crucial investments in sexual and domestic violence prevention and to support our work to build healthy futures for all.Read more news