On the Tension Between Gender Violence and Mass Incarceration

On the Tension Between Gender Violence and Mass Incarceration

November 5, 2013 | Gara LaMarche, President, Democracy Alliance

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NCCD Board Member Gara LaMarche is a senior fellow at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. LaMarche was recently appointed as the new president of the Democracy Alliance, a network of individuals devoted to building the infrastructure needed to execute and advance a progressive agenda. This blog is the second in a series of excerpts from a lecture LaMarche gave at the University of California, Berkeley titled “Is Prison Thinking Infecting Public Policy?”.

NCCD Board Member Gara LaMarche is a senior fellow at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. LaMarche was recently appointed as the new president of the Democracy Alliance, a network of individuals devoted to building the infrastructure needed to execute and advance a progressive agenda. This blog is the second in a series of excerpts from a lecture LaMarche gave at the University of California, Berkeley titled “Is Prison Thinking Infecting Public Policy?”.

I want to say a few words about an issue that illustrates some of the complexities around doing justice for one discriminated-against group—women who have been subjected to male violence with impunity—without compounding the problem of mass incarceration with all its racialized impact.

In the last year or so, I have become more involved in the movements to end sex trafficking and prevent domestic violence. These two issues have become more aligned, as they share many of the same themes and practices of male domination and control. I have become more aware of the debates within the movement and with some other activists and advocates normally allied with it. As one colleague puts it: “For more than 30 years, one of the key advocacy objectives of this movement has been to get the criminal justice system to take gender violence—e.g., domestic violence, rape, trafficking,—seriously. In other words, to make sure that victims of gender violence are accorded the same rights, priority, and attention as victims of other crimes.” At the same time, she points out, advocates are increasingly aware that the criminal justice system itself is deeply flawed, with a disproportionate impact on people of color and, as we have seen in recent statistical reports, women.

She concludes that this tension has led to major strategic debates in the violence against women movement: “Should we continue to push for accountability to victims of gender violence via the criminal justice system? Does this contribute to a culture of continued racist implementation of the law? Or, if we abandon this strategy, will we contribute to ongoing sexism, whereby crimes against women, particularly by men they know, are minimized and ignored?”

We have all come to learn that women subjected to domestic violence come from all racial and socioeconomic groups. The perpetrators of violence are as likely to be stockbrokers as dock workers, and their victims are as likely to be CFOs as manicurists. The same is true, even more so, for men who purchase sexual services. And yet everything we know about the criminal justice system suggests that a “zero-tolerance” policy, if manifested in a law enforcement regimen that locks up the men involved, will almost certainly result—as every enforcement regimen does—in more low-income men of color doing time behind bars.