Sexual Violence Against Women Draws New Funder Attention

The murder of two women joggers in the past week has focused new attention on sexual violence against women. Over the past few years, this issue has been on the agendas of several key sectors of society—including universities, which have grappled with campus sexual assaults; professional sports, where top players have stood accused of attacks; and the military, where rape is common. 

Philanthropy is another sector paying attention, with new sources of funding appearing in recent years. 

Last year, we mentioned that a documentary on campus sexual assault, The Hunting Ground, had inspired a funding effort that includes resources at NEO Philanthropy, an intermediary that works with both funders and nonprofits. It's not clear how much money that effort has raised, or what these funds have been used for. What is clear that the film brought major attention to campus sexual assault, an issue that has drawn in other funders, too—most notably the Avon Foundation, as we've reported.

Avon has long been attuned to domestic violence, an issue that's also received new funder attention lately. That funding has mainly come from local funders, but there are also some state and national players in this space. 


While domestic violence and sexual violence are often seen as separate issues, they are obviously intertwined problems. You can see that in the accusations against professional athletes, which have included a mix of both kinds of assaults. 

Those high-profile incidents explain why the NFL recently announced that it would provide $10 million in funding over five years to a newly formed coalition of nonprofits specializing in sexual violence prevention. The coalition is called Raliance—a word combining both "rally" and "align," signifying that it will both rally support and align goals and resources within the community to end sexual violence.

The coalition consists of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence. Last month, the first round of grants from the new NFL funds was distributed by the coalition to 27 organizations, in order to advance the cause of sexual violence prevention. This round includes a total of $1.2 million in grants of $50,000 each.

In announcing the funding, NFL Senior Vice President of Social Responsibility Anna Isaacson stressed the potential for progress that the new coalition and grantmaking represent. The laudable, ambitious goal of the new coalition between NSVRC and the two other partners is to end sexual violence in one generation.

Since being appointed to her role as VP of social responsibility, Isaacson has led the NFL on its internal work for the 32 teams in the league on sexual violence prevention, as well as its community initiatives on the issue. A 2014 ESPN profile of Isaacson titled "Can Anna Isaacson Save the NFL?" describes the daunting challenge Isaacson faced in developing an appropriate response from the league to issues raised by the domestic violence scandals involving Ray Rice and Greg Hardy, both prominent NFL players. At that time, the NFL began to fund local sexual assault hotlines and started to expand its partnerships with nonprofits specializing in sexual assault prevention. It recent big grant commitment is the first of its kind—an investment coming from a major corporate funder, and a sports corporation at that, to address sexual violence. 

If misogyny is the through-line for sexual and domestic violence, homophobia and racism are key drivers of violence and intimidation against groups who are marginalized due to their sexual orientation. A number of funders have been working this front in recent years, starting with the big LGBT funders like Arcus. With new attention lately to race issues, other funding activities are emerging, too. 

Just today, the Ms. Foundation for Women announced grants to seven nonprofits working to reduce violence against black women and girls, with a special eye on the threats facing transgender women and girls. In a press release, the foundation said:

The social and political climate has exacerbated race and gender-based violence and allowed violence against women, in particular women of color, to thrive. This trend renders Black women and girls especially vulnerable to violent attacks.  

Among the challenges faced by this population, according to the Ms. Foundation, is not just sexual assault, but "criminalization" and "state-sanctioned violence." These issues are getting a lot of attention lately, including among funders, but it's not so often that they are linked back to gender and sexual identity.