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 This article originally appeared in 4 Public Education on April 26, 2024.

By Vanessa Hall

Lisa Sales introduces the speakers at the 4/24/24 Virginia NOW press conference

Thursday, April 24th, was a beautiful day for a moving experience of shared trauma, survival, triumph, and advocacy. Many thanks to Lisa Sales of Virginia National Organization for Women (Virginia NOW) who organized a press conference in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month in front of the Federal Courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia where she gathered local experts, survivors, and legislators to advocate for strengthening laws, culture change, and better enforcement mechanisms to fight sexual harassment and assault.

Ms. Sales shared her own story of assault and retaliation by the perpetrator and her workplace to highlight how what happens too often when people are sexually assaulted–they are harassed, defeated, and silenced. Because of this, she is a fierce, tireless advocate who works alongside the rally speakers like: 

Kenda Sutton-El, founder of Birth in Color RVA, opens the rally with her beautiful voice

These speakers spoke of the need to remember that many vulnerable communities have higher incidences of sexual assault and are less likely to receive services and legal support. They reminded us that we need to remember that the LGBTQIA community must not be forgotten in actions to curb sexual assault and empower survivors. They also spoke of critical legislation that passed in Virginia like the bipartisan HB 994 which ended child marriage in Virginia.

During the press conference, Lisa Bowman announced her lawsuit against the United Way for continued sexual harassment and retaliation in the workplace and the failure of the United Way to address her allegations before firing her. I feel fortunate to have met Ms. Bowman who has been so brave in the face of this retaliation and the failure of systems to protect and support her.

I was astonished to learn that sexual assault has cost Americans over $3 trillion and afflicts more than 25 Million according to the CDC, and that sexual harassment and sexual assault victims face retaliation 75% of the time. When Ms. Sales shared these statistics, there was an audible gasp in the crowd.

Too many of those that I hold near and dear have experienced sexual assault, and nearly every woman I know, including myself, has experienced sexual harassment. 

As an advocate for public education, I attended this rally to learn more about what we can do to prevent sexual assault and harassment in our schools, and how to support survivors. I am looking forward to using what I learned from these brave smart people to make our schools a place that empowers students to combat the scourge of sexual harassment and assault. In Ms. Sales words:

“We want to end this!”

Next week, 4 Public Education will share recent revisions to Title IX which will be one more step toward ending sexual assault and harassment through regulations that should support families in K-12 schools and universities around the country.

Lady Justice looks on the Virginia NOW rally

NBC News Coverage:]