Criminal Justice 2016: VAWA and Mass Incarceration
The 2016 Election Season has been an important one for addressing mass incarceration, state violence, racial profiling, and police killings. Thanks to many amazing activists, organizers, writers, and educators we have national attention on the problems of the criminal justice system.
The state of that system finds many of its roots in 1994, when the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, also known as the Crime Bill, passed. This was the largest piece of anti-crime legislation in United States history, directly paving the way for the disastrous War on Drugs, the strengthening of a racist Prison Industrial Complex, and the continued militarization of the police force. We are now privy to the fact that a carceral state, and the criminalization of drug use and poverty, doesn’t alleviate social ills; it further unfairly punishes people and breaks up communities.
On a national scale, what has been mostly absent during the campaigns thus far is the realization that the Crime Bill is as much a gender issue as it is a racial one, especially at the intersection of race and gender: in fact, a key provision of this anti-crime law was the introduction of the Violence Against Women Act, hailed as one of the most important pieces of federal legislation to address violence against women. And what is left out in our mainstream discussions of mass incarceration is that the policies which have bolstered more policing, prisons, detention centers, and harsher sentences, have largely backfired on women. Women of color have become the fastest growing prison population to the tune of a 800% increase since these severe anti-crime/poverty/drug strategies took effect.
Introduced under the pretext of “protecting women,” mandatory and dual arrest, failure to protect, and mandatory minimum sentences have all negatively affected battered women and threatened women’s ability to self-defend. By making arrest, criminal charges, separation of the family, and loss of home and income the consequences of calling self defense – or even calling for help – we put victims of domestic violence at further risk of harm and even death. Meanwhile, the introduced (and continually reinforced) anti-sex and human trafficking portions of the Crime Bill have disproportionately harmed voluntary sex workers, while doing little to solve the issues facing actually sex-trafficked women and young girls. And we now have more women, especially women of color, in the prison population than ever before.
The discussion on the legal system needs to be focused on these strategies if we are to achieve any justice. We call on the candidates and voters in our concerns about mass incarceration and that we need to also see and center how it has specifically harmed women.
This year at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas we will be presenting on a panel called “Technicians of the Sacred” about our use of digital feminism and technology to address violence against women and girls. This will be during the SXSW Interactive week. Part of the presentation will include the re-launch of our updated and revitalized map and database of missing and murdered Indigenous women, which we’ve been working hard on re-designing and expanding. [To see part of the map & database, which is currently under construction, please visit: missingsisters.crowdmap.com]
If you are attending SXSW make sure to come see us on our panel!
Additionally we are beginning to plan and grow our educational efforts again, particularly for the upcoming Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April.