My name is Cheryl Robb-Welch, and I am the CEO of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. MOCADSV represents almost every domestic and sexual violence service provider in the state. Thank you to the bill’s sponsor, Representative Del Taylor, for recognizing the gap in the law that continues to threaten the lives of victims of domestic violence, and the people who try to help them.
Like many of you on the committee, in a prior life I was in law enforcement. During my time, I was a 911 dispatcher and then a deputy sheriff.
In research studies conducted by the Violence Policy Center and Everytown, Missouri has been as high as third in the nation per capita to population in gun related homicides of women. Most recently we are ranked 6th.[i] We also know that in almost half the instances of mass shootings the perpetrator also shot an intimate partner or family member. Lastly, as of data posted seven days ago, more than 4 million women have reported being threatened with a gun by their partner.[ii]
People tend to talk about domestic violence as a word without a nuance of meaning, or a phrase for something they don’t want to talk about. Domestic violence is thought of as a single incident, an arrest, or during a court process. There is not enough focus on what it means in the moment to the victims.
Many of you on the committee have past experience in law enforcement and the justice system, and likely have your own memories of responding to a call of domestic violence. I ask you to think back to those calls. For those who may not have, I’d like to share an experience that has stayed with me through the years.
During the end of my law enforcement career I responded to the calls for assistance, but one of my earliest experiences of working with a victim of domestic violence was while dispatching, and being on the phone with someone as they experienced the moment-by-moment fear of death at the hands of their husband.
I worked for a sheriff’s department during a time period when very often there was only one officer on duty at night to cover the entire county. It was late in the night when I took a call from a terrified woman who said her husband had been threatening to kill her, and he was now outside the house with at least one of his guns. Shortly after dispatching officers, she quietly said, “He is in the house.” In the intervening time that it took for officers to arrive, I listened to her panic, and assisted her in locating a hiding spot in an upstairs room, as far from the front door as she could get. We stayed on the phone together as she cried, as she tried to calm her breathing so she could be as quiet as possible. And then she fell silent. She whispered, “He is on the stairs.”
She was fortunate that officers arrived on the scene before he made it to the second floor. In her fear and relief that officers were on the scene she told me she heard him run from the house, and then- she hung up on me. As a dispatcher, I continued to wait anxiously with fear that had now become my own because now I had officers, my friends, who were looking for an armed individual somewhere on the surrounding wooded property.
In reality, the time spent on the entire call and dispatching of the scene was probably no more than an hour. I can tell you that if felt much, much longer. The terror that she conveyed was palpable, and has never left me. That call was a single moment of domestic violence. I hadn’t experienced the fear and violence that led to that incident, to that day. I did share her confidence that he intended to shoot and kill her that night.
The presence of a gun in a home that is under the control of someone who uses violence has an impact on so many. It affects the victim, their children, emergency personnel who have to respond, and advocates who work with victims after the incident. The abusive person’s threats are amplified when a gun is used to frighten, coerce, and threaten everyone in the household.
If we flip the script from, “Why does the victim stay?” and instead ask why does the violent person in the home find it acceptable to, quite literally, routinely put a gun to the head of the person they profess to love and tell them, “This might be the day I kill you. You will never see it coming. But, if you leave me – you should know that I will definitely kill you.” Advocates hear this from victims again, again, and again. They deal personally with the aftermath of hearing that victims have been stalked relentlessly, ambushed and murdered in the parking lots of where they work, murdered in their homes, in their front yards, at their parent’s homes, and in front of their children. The threat of violence is real, and it is constant. The risk of homicide increases exponentially when a gun is allowed to be in the hands of an abusive partner.
The provisions in this bill, and bills like it, occur after an individual has had an opportunity to have a hearing in front of a judge for a full Order of Protection or after a conviction of a class A misdemeanor domestic violence and/or stalking. This is not a random decision to remove someone’s guns. Rather this is a tool for judges when a person’s own violent actions warrant the removal of guns to make their family and community safer.
Victims, and their advocates, have been asking and waiting for more than 40 years for guns to be taken out of the hands of abusive and violent people.
I beg of you to be the ones who finally put victim’s lives first.
[i] https://vpc.org/when-men-murder-women/ Violence Policy Center, Retrieved 04.26.2023
[ii] https://everytownresearch.org/issue/domestic-violence/#by-the-numbers, Retrieved 04.26.2023
Each year, April is recognized as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This year, the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence (MOCADSV) is launching an awareness campaign to educate Missourians of their rights under the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights. This bill initially passed in 2020, but required some legislative fixes that led to a slower rollout of any awareness raising campaigns.
The Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights (SASBR) enshrines into law important rights for survivors of sexual assault including the right to consult with an advocate of a rape crisis center, be offered a shower and fresh set of clothing – free of charge, have an interpreter, in the language of their choice, to help communicate, and more.
To continue raising awareness of the rights of sexual assault survivors, and recruit much-needed hospital advocate volunteers, MOCADSV developed a series of awareness posters highlighting key aspects of the SASBR available, at no cost, to the general public on our website.
In addition to the current need for hospital advocates, the 2024 implementation of the Sexual Assault Nurse Examination telehealth network will lead to an even greater increase in the demand for these volunteers. MOCADSV has created these posters along with a social media campaign encouraging Missourians to connect with local agencies to become volunteer hospital advocates. We know that as sexual assault forensic exams become more widely available, and survivors of sexual violence become aware of their rights under the SASBR, many domestic violence and sexual assault service providers will be called upon for hospital advocacy.
Order yours through our store today.
MOCADSV has officially launched our podcast, MOmentum Live! This interview and discussion-style podcast features advocates and thought-leaders across Missouri who are united under our shared goal of ending rape and abuse in Missouri.
The podcast is produced by MOCADSV from our monthly Facebook Livestream events. Our first full season is out now with all of the guests from 2022. The podcast is available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Google Podcasts. Subscribe to be notified when we drop new episodes! Additionally, if your preferred podcast platform is not on this list, please contact us and we will work to expand to additional platforms.
At the end of 2022, President Biden passed a large spending bill that included significant increases to many funding sources that support victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, dating violence, and harassment. MOCADSV thanks our national coalition partners, champions in Congress, and advocates across the country for their work in getting these important increases to funding across the finish line.
Some highlights from this spending package include:
- Record-breaking increase in funding for the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA) program, which was increased by $37.5 million
- Sexual Assault Services Program (SASP) increased by $24.5 million to a total of $78.5 million
- Rape Prevention & Education Program (RPE) increased by $5 million to a total of $61.75 million
- $170 million toward DNA initiatives that include sexual assault forensic exam kit testing and sexual assault forensic exam program grants
- VAWA Culturally Specific Programs increased by $1 million to a total of $11 million
- VOCA cap is set at $1.9 billion with no VAWA transfer
- A number of increases to vital VAWA programs including: the Sexual Assault Services Program, the Transitional Housing program, Legal Assistance for Victims, the Rural Grant Program, as well as investments in newer programs like the LGBTQ Specific Services Program
For more information on the domestic and sexual violence funding passed in the Fiscal Year 2023 appropriations bill, check out the information put out by the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) and the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence (NAESV).
This letter was originally published in Teen Vogue. MOCADSV signed onto the letter.
As survivors of sexual violence and advocates for survivors, we know exactly how precious and vital it is to be safe in our homes and our bodies, and how much is lost when that safety is violated by people who claim to love and protect us. We also know that words have power – both the words we use to describe our own experiences, and the words other people use to describe us.
That is why we can no longer stay silent while right-wing extremists appropriate the idea and terminology of “grooming” and “pedophilia” to attack gender equity and young people’s access to necessary education, whether these attacks are used to stoke fear and panic in attempts to ban any discussions of LGBTQ+ identity from classroom discussion, leveraged in efforts to ban books or get teachers or administrators fired, or used to undermine access to necessary relationships and sexuality education. The word “grooming” means something specific and serious: it is a secretive process by which someone builds false trust with a child they are intending to abuse.
LGBTQ+ representation and acceptance is life-saving for young people questioning their gender or orientation, and age-appropriate comprehensive sexual health education both gives youth skills to recognize and disclose abuse and helps reduce perpetration of sexual abuse.
This is why we are speaking today with one voice to demand that the journalists covering this devastating and false rhetoric do so responsibly. Whenever a source invokes the terminology of child abuse survivors as reasons to oppose education, LGBTQ+ rights, or other fundamental freedoms, we call on you to responsibly contextualize what child abuse actually is, and center the voices of survivor advocacy groups.
Child sexual abuse is real, and it is devastating. Standing in solidarity with the LGBTQ community has nothing to do with child sexual abuse. Child sexual abuse is about people in positions of power harming the most vulnerable. As Kendall Ciesemier, a survivor, wrote in the New York Times: “Abusers often seek to gain the trust of their victims and, in time, use that trust to assert control over them… No anti-LGBTQ education bill, book ban or health care ban, would have prevented my abuse or helped me in its aftermath.” For survivors who are trans or queer, remaining in the closet and not coming to terms with our own identities has never protected us from the kind of violence we endured as children. For some of us, our abuse may have been directly related to others’ attempts to suppress our identity, and the impacts of this abuse were made worse by being unable to access LGBTQ-specific information about sexuality, sexual health, and relationships.
The extremists who use this harmful rhetoric are not keeping anyone safe. They do not support or speak for survivors. To the contrary: They are muddying the waters of language, trivializing the suffering of survivors, gaslighting the public, and making it increasingly impossible for children to name when they are experiencing harm from abusers. When there is confusion about what child abuse actually is, it will be harder to identify it and intervene to stop it. Using inaccurate and sensational narratives to stir a moral panic about LGBTQ+ rights and sexual health education will lead to ineffective and harmful interventions and policy decisions based on fictions rather than evidence. These extremists are only fueling the epidemic of child sexual abuse, increasing violence against the LGBTQ+ community, and ultimately threatening public health.
Many of the same politicians co-opting the use of language created to name sexual violence are doing nothing when their political allies are discovered to have committed actual sexual violence. They are using this rhetoric because they believe that keeping us afraid will help them gain and cling to power. And by spreading these baseless, cynical allegations, they are inciting violence against queer and trans people — people who are already significantly more likely to be victims of abuse, rather than perpetrators of it.
In fact, the very initiatives that do reduce children’s vulnerability to groomers and prevent child sexual abuse are the ones extremists are weaponizing the language of child abuse to oppose. LGBTQ+ affirming books and curricula save lives by helping all kids know their lives and rights to bodily autonomy are important, and that their identities are valid. Studies repeatedly show that quality, inclusive relationships and sexuality education can reduce child abuse, and empowers children to report if someone does try to harm them. We are tired of being weaponized as a right-wing talking point against the education and protections that will prevent more children from experiencing sexual violence.
Survivors of abuse will tell you that information is power and the real threats are fear, shame, and silence. Don’t make children pay the price for these politicians’ lies. By centering survivor advocates in this narrative and educating the public about what grooming is and is not, you can help people see through this fear-mongering ploy, return the power of words to survivors, and make children across this nation safer in the process.
Advocates for Youth
Anti-Slavery and Human Trafficking Initiative
Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence
Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking
Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault
Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence
EducateUS: SIECUS In Action
Equality North Carolina
Florida Freedom to Read Project
Freedom Network USA
Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault
Jane Doe Inc. (JDI), the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence
Jews for a Secular Democracy
Know Your IX
Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault
Michigan Organization of Adolescent Sexual Health Action Fund
Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault
Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence
Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence
National Alliance to End Sexual Violence
National Center for Transgender Equality
National Survivor Network
Nevada Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence
New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault
North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault
Northern Marianas Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence
Our Bodies Ourselves Today
Partners in Sex Education
Planned Parenthood of South, East and North Florida
PRISM FL, Inc.
Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence
SIECUS: Sex Ed for Social Change
Stop It Now!
The Irina Project
The Trevor Project
University of Kansas Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
Victim Rights Law Center
Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault
You Are More Than
And the Following Individuals:
Annie E. Clark
Beth Roselyn, PhD, Lecturer, Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, University of Kansas
Chris Ash, Advocate and Educator
Dr. Melinda Chen
Florida Representative Anna V. Eskamani
Florida Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith
Florida Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book
Hannah E. Britton
Ida V. Eskamani
Lenny Hayes, Executive Director, Tate Topa Consulting
Kai X. Christmas
Max Micallef, Queer Rights & Suicide Prevention Activist
Melanie Andrade Williams
Pamela Merritt, Executive Director of Medical Students for Choice
Rebecca Kling, Advocate for Transgender Rights
Renee Bracey Sherman
Sarah “Mili” Milianta-Laffin
Sarah Sophie Flicker
Takeata King Pang
It’s not news to some that in communities throughout Missouri there have been restrictions on access to emergency contraception by faith-based hospitals and pharmacies. MOCADSV is gravely concerned that if more hospitals and pharmacies stop providing access to emergency contraception the ramifications of these decisions will again be placed on the shoulders of victims who need the best from Missouri, its decision-makers, their communities, and their healthcare providers. Sending a victim out in borrowed clothes after an assault and an invasive exam, to travel to a variety of stores or pharmacies to track down the medication they need to put their mind at ease is cruel and unwarranted. Missouri can and should do better.
St. Luke’s Health System in Kansas City has reversed their earlier decision to stop providing emergency contraception to patients. Their decision to stop providing it was based on interpretation of the 2019 “trigger law” that last week banned abortion, and the subsequent proclamation and opinion signed by the Governor and Attorney General. We appreciate St. Luke’s willingness to reverse course and put the needs of victims first.
First and foremost, we want to thank the advocates at the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault (MOCSA). MOCSA staff immediately advocated on the behalf of victims by describing how this change in policy would affect someone who had just been raped and was seeking a comprehensive range of hospital care. MOCSA’s advocacy efforts have not gone unnoticed.
Thank you to Missouri House Minority Leader, Representative Crystal Quade of Springfield, for requesting an official opinion from the Attorney General’s office regarding the new law and the impact on Missourians who use contraception.
Thank you to the office of the Missouri Attorney General for quickly and unequivocally stating, as reported by the Missouri Independent, “Missouri law does not prohibit the use or provision of Plan B, or contraception,” said Chris Nuelle, a spokesman for Schmitt.”
After Governor Parson charged the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) to evaluate whether the newly enacted law that bans abortions in Missouri applies to contraceptives, DHSS released a statement that contraception is not banned under Missouri law. “Before and following the Supreme Court of the United States’ ruling in Dobbs that overturns Roe v. Wade, Missouri law does not ban the use of contraception methods. RSMo 188.017 criminalizes performing an abortion absent a medical emergency, but this does not include pregnancy preventive measures.”
We thank DHSS for their swift action in releasing this statement and ensuring that sexual assault survivors, and all Missourians, will continue to have access to emergency contraceptives.
We hope other providers that had been considering a change of practice to stop providing emergency contraception strongly consider the statements from the Attorney General’s office and Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services before doing so. For additional information about birth control methods and where to access various forms of birth control, visit the Missouri Family Health Council.