Critical Resistance-Incite! Statement on Gender Violence and the Prison-Industrial Complex

Social Justice, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Critical Resistance-Incite! Statement on Gender Violence and the Prison-Industrial Complex


Critical Resistance and Incite!

WE CALL ON SOCIAL JUSTICE MOVEMENTS TO DEVELOP STRATEGIES AND ANALYSIS that address both state and interpersonal violence, particularly violence against women. (1) Currently, activists/movements that address state violence (such as anti-prison, anti-police brutality groups) often work in isolation from activists/movements that address domestic and sexual violence. The result is that women of color, who suffer disproportionately from both state and interpersonal violence, have become marginalized within these movements. It is critical for us to develop responses to gender violence that do not depend on a sexist, racist, classist, and homophobic criminal justice system. It is also important that we develop strategies that challenge the criminal justice system, while providing safety for survivors of sexual and domestic violence. To live violence-free lives, we must develop holistic strategies for addressing violence that speak to the intersection of all forms of oppression.

The anti-violence movement has been critically important in breaking the silence around violence against women and providing much-needed services to survivors. However, the mainstream anti-violence movement has increasingly relied on the criminal justice system as the front-line approach toward ending violence against women of color. It is important to assess the impact of this strategy.

(1) Law enforcement approaches to violence against women may deter some acts of violence in the short term. However, as an overall strategy for ending violence, criminalization has not worked. In fact, mandatory arrest laws for domestic violence have led to decreases in the number of battered women who kill their partners in self-defense, but they have not led to a decrease in the number of batterers who kill their partners. (2) Thus, the law protects batterers more than it protects survivors.

(2) The criminalization approach has also brought many women into conflict with the law, particularly women of color, poor women, lesbians, sex workers, immigrant women, women with disabilities, and other marginalized women. For instance, under mandatory arrest laws, there have been numerous occasions in which police officers called to domestic incidents have arrested the woman being battered. (3) Many undocumented women have reported cases of sexual and domestic violence, only to find themselves deported. (4) A tough law-and-order agenda also leads to long punitive sentences for women convicted of killing their batterers. (5) Finally, when public funding is channeled into policing and prisons, budget cuts for social programs, including women's shelters, welfare, and public housing, are the inevitable side effect. (6) These cutbacks leave women less able to escape violent relationships.

(3) Prisons don't work. Despite an exponential increase in the number of men in prisons, women are not any safer and the rates of sexual assault and domestic violence have not decreased. (7) In calling for greater police responses to, and harsher sentences for, perpetrators of gender violence, the anti-violence movement has fueled the proliferation of prisons. The U.S. now locks up more people per capita than does any other country. (8) During the past 15 years, the number of women in prison, especially women of color, has skyrocketed. (9) Prisons also inflict violence on the growing numbers of women behind bars. Slashing, suicide, the proliferation of HIV, strip searches, medical neglect, and rape of prisoners has largely been ignored by anti-violence activists. (10) The criminal justice system, an institution of violence, domination, and control, has increased the level of violence in society.

(4) Reliance on state funding to support anti-violence programs has increased the professionalization of the anti-violence movement and alienated it from its community-organizing, social justice roots. (11) Such reliance has isolated the antiviolence movement from other social justice movements that seek to eradicate state violence, such that it acts in conflict rather than in collaboration with these movements. …

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