Friday, December 04, 2009

The state and violence against women (by Suzie)

I fear men more than the Man. In other words, I don’t worry about intrusions, harassment, restrictions and violence from the state as much as I do from individual men. (I injected “individual” since men predominate in the top positions in the state.)

I differ from many liberals, libertarians, leftists and anarchists, who want fewer government restrictions on their personal lives. Saying everyone should have control of their own body, some would legalize prostitution, all abortion, all drugs, all porn, all consensual sexual activity. If people want to do degrading or dangerous things, for money or for free, that’s their own business.

I thought of this while reading Ann Friedman’s article in The American Prospect on the Violence Against Women Act:
VAWA … injects our flawed criminal-justice system into personal relationships.
In doing so, it poses a deep quandary for those of us who are critical of that system but believe strongly that rapists and domestic abusers should be accountable for their actions.
The first claim is so wrong that I wonder how it got past an editor. As Pocochina notes in an excellent post: It’s not as if rape and domestic violence were legal before VAWA.

I, too, would like to revamp the criminal-justice system, but I’m curious how else we might hold rapists and other abusers accountable. Here’s an example: An anarchist friend told me about a communal-living arrangement at a large protest. A man who raped a woman was ejected from the lodging and the group. Although prison isn't a great deterrent, it's even less of one to kick the guy out of the house and tell him he can't hang out with you anymore. If he went to prison, at least women would be safe from him during his incarceration.

Friedman also wrote that the pro-arrest aspect of VAWA
disregarded the fact that not all women interact with the criminal-justice system in the same way. An upper-middle-class white woman may conclude that involving the police (getting a restraining order, perhaps) against her abusive husband will make her safer, but will a woman of color in a low-income neighborhood come to the same conclusion? When your community has a contentious history with law enforcement, involving police might not seem like such a good idea.
Some liberals talk as if no abused women of color want the criminal-justice system involved, while all white women, especially ones with money, don’t hesitate to make the call. Friedman isn’t as black-and-white on this topic. Nevertheless, what she says is part of a larger theme that middle-class white feminists think only of themselves. According to the Department of Justice:
The rates at which individuals report domestic violence to police vary along racial ... lines. Hispanic and black women report domestic violence at the highest rate (approximately 65% to 67% of abuse is reported). For white females, only about 50% of the abuse is reported.
I don’t know the methodology, but clearly, many brown and black women do report domestic violence. A white immigrant from a country with more police corruption than the U.S., or one married to a U.S. citizen, may hesitate to talk to authorities. A woman of any ethnicity and income level may not report abuse if she fears her abuser will become more violent. Friedman talks about a community’s “contentious history with law enforcement” -- and that also applies to lots of poor white communities. Despite their history, community attitudes can change, perhaps as the police change.

If your work relates to domestic violence, you need to understand the various reasons some women go to the authorities and others don't. It can be dangerous to prejudge people.