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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.

(5) Reliance on the criminal justice system has taken power away from women's ability to organize collectively to stop violence and has invested this power within the state. The result is that women who seek redress in the criminal justice system feel disempowered and alienated. (12) It has also promoted an individualistic approach toward ending violence, such that the only way people think they can intervene to stop violence is to call the police. This reliance has shifted our focus away from developing ways communities can collectively respond to violence.

In recent years, the mainstream anti-prison movement has called attention to the negative impact of criminalization and to the build-up of the prison-industrial complex. Because activists seeking to reverse the tide of mass incarceration and criminalization of poor communities and communities of color have not consistently made gender and sexuality central to their analysis or organizing, they have not always responded adequately to the needs of survivors of domestic and sexual violence. We need to analyze the limitations of anti-prison and police accountability activism.

(1) Prison and police accountability activists have generally organized around and conceptualized men of color as the primary victims of state violence. Female prisoners and victims of police brutality have been made invisible by a focus on the war on our brothers and sons. This emphasis fails to consider that state violence affects women as severely as it does men. (13) The plight of women who are raped by INS officers or prison guards, for instance, has not received sufficient attention. In addition, women carry the burden of caring for extended family when family and community members are criminalized and warehoused (14) Several organizations have been established to advocate for women prisoners; (15) however, these groups have frequently been marginalized within the mainstream anti-prison movement.

(2) The anti-prison movement has not addressed strategies for addressing the rampant forms of violence women face in their everyday lives, including street harassment, sexual harassment at work, rape, and intimate partner abuse. Until these strategies are developed, many women will feel shortchanged by the movement. In addition, the anti-prison movement's failure to seek alliances with the anti-violence movement has sent the message that it is possible to liberate communities without guaranteeing the well-being and safety of women.

(3) The anti-prison movement has failed to sufficiently organize around the forms of state violence faced by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Two-spirited, and Intersex (LGBTTI) communities. LGBTTI street youth and trans people in general are particularly vulnerable to police brutality and criminalization. (16) LGBTTI prisoners are denied basic human rights such as family visits from same-sex partners, and same-sex consensual relationships in prison are policed and punished. (17)

(4) Although prison abolitionists have correctly noted that rapists and serial murderers comprise a small percentage of the prison population, we have not answered the question of how these cases should be addressed. (18) Many antiviolence activists interpret this inability to answer the question as a lack of concern for the safety of women.

(5) The various alternatives to incarceration developed by anti-prison activists have generally failed to provide a sufficient mechanism for safety and accountability for survivors of sexual and domestic violence. These alternatives often rely on a romanticized notion of communities, which have yet to demonstrate their commitment and ability to keep women and children safe or to seriously address the sexism and homophobia that is deeply embedded within them. (19)

We call on social justice movements concerned with ending violence in all its forms to:

(1) Develop community-based responses to violence that do not rely on the criminal justice system and that have mechanisms to ensure safety and account ability for survivors of sexual and domestic violence. Transformative practices emerging from local communities should be documented and disseminated to promote collective responses to violence.

(2) Critically assess the impact of state funding on social justice organizations and develop alternative fundraising strategies to support these organizations. Develop collective fundraising and organizing strategies for anti-prison and antiviolence organizations. Develop strategies and analysis that specifically target state forms of sexual violence.

(3) Make connections between interpersonal violence, the violence inflicted by domestic state institutions (such as prisons, detention centers, mental hospitals, and child protective services), and international violence (such as war, military base prostitution, and nuclear testing).

(4) Develop analyses and strategies to end violence that do not isolate acts of state or individual violence from their larger contexts. These strategies must address how entire communities of all genders are affected in multiple ways by state violence and interpersonal gender violence. Battered women prisoners represent an intersection of state and interpersonal violence and as such provide and opportunity for both movements to build coalitions and joint struggles.

(5) Place poor and working-class women of color at the center of their analysis, organizing practices, and leadership development. Recognize the role of economic oppression, welfare "reform," and attacks on women workers' rights in increasing women's vulnerability to all forms of violence; locate anti-violence and anti-prison activism alongside efforts to transform the capitalist economic system.

(6) Center stories of state violence committed against women of color in our organizing efforts.

(7) Oppose legislative change that promotes prison expansion or criminalization of poor communities and communities of color, and thus state violence against women of color, even if these changes also incorporate measures to support victims of interpersonal gender violence.

(8) Promote holistic political education at the everyday level within our communities. Specifically, show how sexual violence helps to reproduce the colonial, racist, capitalist, heterosexist, and patriarchal society in which we live, as well as how state violence produces interpersonal violence within communities.

(9) Develop strategies for mobilizing against sexism and homophobia within our communities to keep women safe.

(10) Challenge men of color and all men in social justice movements to take particular responsibility to address and organize around gender violence in their communities as a primary strategy for addressing violence and colonialism. We challenge men to address how their own histories of victimization have hindered their ability to establish gender justice in their communities.

(11) Link struggles for personal transformation and healing with struggles for social justice.

We seek to build movements that not only end violence, but also create a society based on radical freedom, mutual accountability, and passionate reciprocity. In this society, safety and security will not be premised on violence or the threat of violence; it will be based on a collective commitment to guaranteeing the survival and care of all peoples.



American Friends Service Committee, Arab Women's Solidarity Association, North America Arab Women's Solidarity Association, San Francisco Chapter, Arizona Prison Moratorium Coalition, Asian Women's Shelter, Audre Lorde Project, Black Radical Congress, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Center for Human Rights Education, Center for Immigrant Families, Center for Law and Justice, Coalition of Women from Asia and the Middle East, Colorado Progressive Alliance, Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence (New York), Communities Against Rape and Abuse (Seattle), Direct Action Against Refugee Exploitation (Vancouver), East Asia-US-Puerto Rico Women's Network Against Militarism, Institute of Lesbian Studies, Justice Now, Korean American Coalition to End Domestic Abuse, Lavender Youth Recreation & Information Center (San Francisco), Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Minnesota Black Political Action Committee, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects, National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (Seattle), Pennsylvania Lesbian and Gay Task Force, Prison Activist Resource Center, Project South San Francisco, Women Against Rape, Shimtuh Korean Domestic Violence Program, Sista II Sista, Southwest Youth Collaborative (Chicago), Spear and Shield Publications, Chicago, Women of All Red Nations, Women of Color Resource Center, and Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice (Bronx)


Debra M. Akuna, Gigi Alexander, Jiro Arase, Helen Arnold, Office of Sexual Misconduct, Prevention & Education, Columbia University, Molefe Asante, Temple University, Rjoya K. Atu, Karen Baker, National Sexual Violence Resource Center, Rachel Baum, National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects, Elham Bayour, Women's Empowerment Project (Gaza, Palestine), Zoe Abigail Bermet, Eulynda Toledo-Benalli, Dine' Nation, First Nations North & South, Diana Block, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Marilyn Buck, Political Prisoner, Lee Carroll, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Emma Catague, API Women & Safety Center, Ann Caton, Young Women United, Mariama Changamire, Department of Communication, Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst, Eunice Cho, National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Sunjung Cho, KACEDA and Asian Community Mental Health Services, Christina Chu, Dorie D. Ciskowsky, Cori Couture, BAMM, Kimberle Crenshaw, UCLA Law School, Gwen D'Arcangelis, Shamita Das Dasgupta, Manavi, Inc., Angela Y. Davis, University of California--Santa Cruz, Jason Duff, University of Hawaii School of Social Work, Michael Eric Dyson, University of Pennsylvania, Siobhan Edmondson, Michelle Erai, Santa Cruz Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women, Samantha Francois, Edna Frantela, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Loretta Frederick, Battered Women's Justice Project, Arnoldo Garcia, National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Dionne Grigsby, University of Hawaii Outreach College, Lara K. Grimm, Sarah Hoagland, Institute of Lesbian Studies, Elizabeth Harmuth, Prison Activist Resource Center, Katayoun Issari, Family Peace Center (Hawaii), Desa Jacobsson, Anti-Violence Activist (Alaska), Joy James, Brown University, Leialoha Jenkins, Jamie Jimenez, Northwestern Sexual Assault Education Prevention Program, Dorothea Kaapana, Isabel Kang, Dorean American Coalition for Ending Domestic Abuse, Valli Kanuha, Asian Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence, Mimi Kim, Asian Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence, Erl Kimmich, Paul Kivel, Violence Prevention Educator, M. Carmen Lane, Anti-violence activist, In Hui Lee, KACEDA, Meejeon Lee, Shimtuh & KACEDA, Beckie Masaki, Asian Women's Shelter, Ann Rhee Menzie, Shimtuh & KACEDA, Sarah Kim-Merchant, KACEDA, Patricia Manning, Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) volunteer, Kristin Millikan, Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women's Network, Steven Morozumi, Programs Adviser, Univ. of Oregon Multicultural Center, Soniya Munshi, Manavi, Sylvia Nam, KACEDA & KCCEB (Korean Community Center of the East Bay), Stormy Ogden, American Indian Movement, Margo Okazawa-Rey, Mills College, Angela Naomi Paik, Ellen Pence, Praxis, Karen Porter, Trity Pourbahrami, University of Hawaii, Laura Pulido, University of Southern California, Bernadette Ramog, Matt Remle, Center for Community Justice, Monique Rhodes, Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault, Lisa Richardson, Beth Richie, African American Institute on Domestic Violence, David Rider, Men Can Stop Rape, Loretta Rivera, Alissa Rojers, Clarissa Rojas, Latino Alianza Against Domestic Violence, Paula Rojas, Refugio/Refuge (New York), Tricia Rose, University of California--Santa Cruz, Katheryn Russell-Brown, University of Maryland, Ann Russo, Women's Studies Program, DePaul University, Anuradha Sharma, Asian & Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence, David Thibault Rodriguez, South West Youth Collaborative, Roxanna San Miguel, Karen Shain, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Proshat Shekarloo, Oakland, Anita Sinha, attorney--Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Wendy Simonetti, Barbara Smith, founder, Kitchen Table Press, Matthea Little Smith, Natalie Sokoloff, John Jay College of Criminal Justice--CUNY, Nan Stoops, Theresa Tevaga, Kabzuag Vaj, Hmong American Women Association, Cornel West, Janelle White, Leanne Knot, Violence Against Women Consortium, Laura Whitehorn, former political prisoner, Sherry Wilson, Women of All Red Nations, Glenn Wong, Yon Soon Yoon, KACEDA, Mieko Yoshihama, University of Michigan School of Social Work, Tukufu Zuberi, Center for Africana Studies, University of Pennsylvania.


(1.) Critical Resistance and Incite! Women of Color Against Violence are U.S.-based organizations that participate in transnational networks and alliances. Although many of the critiques of the antiviolence and anti-prison movements in the statement may be relevant to non-U.S. contexts, the authors do not make any claims of universality and recognize that movements in other countries have developed from distinct histories and political contexts.

(2.) In a 20-year study of 48 cities, Dugan et al. (2003) found that greater access to criminal legal remedies for women led to fewer men being killed by their wives, since women who might otherwise have killed to escape violence were offered alternatives. However, women receiving legal support were no less likely to be killed by their intimate partners, and were exposed to additional retaliatory violence.

(3.) See McMahon (2003), Osthoff (2002), and Miller (2001). Noting that in some cities, over 20% of those arrested for domestic violence are women, Miller concludes: "An arrest policy intended to protect battered women as victims is being misapplied and used against them. Battered women have become female offenders."

(4.) Women's dependent or undocumented status is often manipulated by batterers, who use the threat of deportation as part of a matrix of domination and control. Although the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA, 1994; 2000) introduced visas for battered immigrant women, many women do not know about the act's provisions or are unable to meet evidentiary requirements. Since the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act made domestic violence grounds for deportation, women may also be reluctant to subject a legal permanent resident spouse to potential deportation proceedings by reporting him to the police. In addition, women arrested under mandatory arrest laws could themselves face deportation. See Raj and Silverman (2002) and Jang et al. (1997).

(5.) For example, former California Governor Grey Davis, whose tough law-and-order platform included a promise that no one convicted of murder would go free, rejected numerous parole board recommendations on behalf of battered women incarcerated for killing in self-defense (Vesely, 2002). For further information and testimonies of incarcerated survivors of domestic violence, see

(6.) Christian Parenti (1999) documents the shift in government spending from welfare, education, and social provision to prisons and policing.

(7.) The U.S. prison and jail population grew from 270,000 in 1975 to two million in 2001 as legislators pushed "tough on crime" policies such as mandatory minimums, three strikes and you're out, and truth in sentencing (Tonry, 2001: 17). Over 90% of these prisoners are men, and approximately 50% are black men. Despite claims that locking more people away would lead to a dramatic decrease in crime, reported violent crimes against women have remained relatively constant since annual victimization surveys were initiated in 1973 (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1994).

(8.) In 2001, the U.S., with 686 prisoners per 100,000 residents, surpassed the incarceration rate of gulag-ridden Russia. The U.S. dwarfs the incarceration rate of Western European nations like Finland and Denmark, which incarcerate only 59 people out of every 100,000 (Home Office Development and Statistics Directorate, 2003).

(9.) The rate of increase of women's imprisonment in the U.S. has exceeded that of men. In 1970, there were 5,600 women in federal and state prisons; by 1996, there were 75,000 (Currie, 1998).

(10.) Amnesty International's investigation of women's prisons in the U.S. revealed countless cases of sexual, physical, and psychological abuse. In one case, the Federal Bureau of Prisons paid $500,000 to settle a lawsuit by three black women who were sexually assaulted when guards took money from male prisoners in exchange for taking them to the women's cells; prisoners in Arizona were subjected to rape, sexual fondling, and genital touching during searches, as well as to constant prurient viewing when using the shower and toilet; women at Valley State Prison, California, were treated as a "private harem to sexually abuse and harass"; in numerous cases, women were kept in restraints while seriously ill, dying, or in labor and women under maximum-security conditions were kept in isolation and sensory deprivation for long periods (Amnesty International, 1999).

(11.) See Smith (2000-2001).

(12.) May Koss (2000) argues that the adversarial justice system traumatizes survivors of domestic violence. For a first-person account of a rape survivor's fight to hold the police accountable, see Doe (2003). Jane Doe was raped by the Toronto "Balcony rapist" after police used women in her neighborhood as "bait."

(13.) For a comprehensive account of state violence against women in the U.S., see Bhattacharjee (2001).

(14.) Added burdens on women when a loved one is incarcerated include dealing with the arrest and trials of family members, expensive visits and phone calls from correctional facilities, and meeting disruptive parole requirements (Richie, 2002).

(15.) In the U.S., see Justice Now; Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, at http://; Free Battered Women, at; California Coalition for Women Prisoners, at; and Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers, at In the U.K., see Women in Prison, at; and Justice for Women, at In Canada, see the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Associations, at

(16.) According to transgender activists in the Bay Area, the police are responsible for approximately 50% of all trans abuse cases. The Transaction hotline regularly receives reports from TG/TS survivors of police violence who have been forced to strip to "verify gender," or subjected to demands for sex from undercover police officers (San Francisco Examiner, 2002; Bay Area Reporter, 1999).

(17.) See Faith (1993:211-223).

(18.) The response of abolitionists Thomas and Boehlfeld (1993) to the question of what to do about Henry, a violent rapist, is an example of this problem. The authors conclude that this is the wrong question since it focuses attention on a small and anomalous subsection of the prison population and detracts from a broader abolitionist vision.

(19.) Alternatives to the traditional justice system such as Sentencing Circles are particularly developed in Canada and Australia, where they have been developed in partnership with indigenous communities. However, native women have been critical of these approaches, arguing that they fail to address the deep-rooted sexism and misogyny engendered by experiences of colonization and may revictimize women (Monture-Angus, 2000). See also Hudson (2002).


Amnesty International 1999 Not Part of My Sentence: Violations of the Human Rights, of Women in Custody. New York.

Bay Area Reporter 1999 "Another Transgender Murder." April 8: 29, 14.

Bhattacharjee, Annanya 2001 Women of Color and the Violence of Law Enforcement. Philadelphia: American Friends Service Committee and Committee on Women, Population, and the Environment.

Bramman, Donald 2002 "Families and Incarceration." Marc Mauer and Meda Chesney-Lind (eds.), Invisible Punishment: The Collateral Consequences of Mass Imprisonment. New York: The New Press.

Bureau of Justice Statistics 1994 National Crime Victimization Survey Report: "Violence Against Women." NCJ 145325.

Chesney-Lind, Meda 2002 Invisible Punishment: The Collateral Consequences of Mass Imprisonment. New York: The New Press.

Critical Resistance 2002 What Is Abolition? At

Currie, Elliott 1998 Crime and Punishment in America. New York: Henry Holt.

Doe, Jane 2003 The Story of Jane Doe: A Book About Rape. New York: Random House.

Dugan, Laura, Daniel S. Nagin, and Richard Rosenfeld 2003 "Exposure Reduction or Retaliation? The Effects of Domestic Violence Resources on Intimate-Partner Homicide." Law & Society Review 37: 1.

Faith, Karlene 1993 Unruly Women: The Politics of Confinement and Resistance. Vancouver: Press Gang Publishers.

Home Office Development and Statistics Directorate 2003 World Prison Population List. Online at: r188.pdf.

Hudson, Barbara 2002 "Restorative Justice and Gendered Violence." British Journal of Criminology 42,3.

James, Joy 1996 Resisting State Violence: Radicalism, Gender, and Race in U.S. Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Jang, Deena, Len Marin, and Gail Pendleton 1997 Domestic Violence in Immigrant and Refugee Communities: Assessing the Rights of Battered Women. Second Edition. San Francisco: Family Violence Prevention Fund.

Koss, May 2000 "Blame, Shame, and Community: Justice Responses to Violence Against Women." American Psychologist 55,11 (November): 1332.

McMahon, Martha 2003 "Making Social Change." Violence Against Women (January) 9,1: 47-74.

Miller, Susan 2001 "The Paradox of Women Arrested for Domestic Violence." Violence Against Women 7,12 (December).

Monture-Angus, Patricia 2000 "The Roles and Responsibilities of Aboriginal Women: Reclaiming Justice." Robynne Neugebauer (ed.), Criminal Injustice: Racism in the Criminal Justice System. Toronto: Canadian Scholars' Press Inc.

New York Times 2003 "The Growing Inmate Population." Editorial (August 1).

Osthoff, Sue 2002 "But Gertrude, I Beg to Differ, a Hit Is Not a Hit Is Not a Hit." Violence Against Women 8,12 (December): 1521-1544.

Parenti, Christian 1999 Lockdown America: Policing and Prisons in the Age of Crisis. New York: Verso Books.

Raj, Anita and Jay Silverman 2002 "Violence Against Immigrant Women: The Role of Culture, Context, and Legal Immigrant Status on Intimate Partner Violence." Violence Against Women 8,3: 367-398.

Richie, Beth 2002 "The Social Impact of Mass Incarceration on Women." Marc Mauer and Meda Chesney-Lind (eds.), Invisible Punishment: The Collateral Consequences of Mass Imprisonment. New York: The New Press.

San Francisco Examiner 2002 "Transgender Sues Police." August 9.

Smith, Andrea 2000-2001 "Colors of Violence." Colorlines 3.4.

Thomas, Jim and Sharon Boehlefeld 1993 "Rethinking Abolitionism: 'What Do We Do with Henry?'" Brian MacLean and Harold Pepinsky (eds.), We Who Would Take No Prisoners: Selections from the Fifth International Conference on Penal Abolition. Vancouver: Collective Press.

Tonry, Michael (ed.) 2001 Penal Reform in Overcrowded Times. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Vesely, Rebecca 2002 "Davis' Right to Deny Parole to Abused Women Upheld." Women's Enews (December 19).

CRITICAL RESISTANCE and INCITE! WOMEN OF COLOR AGAINST VIOLENCE are U.S.-based organizations. To sign on to the Critical Resistance-Incite statement as an organization or individual, e-mail or phone (415) 553-3837.
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Publication:Social Justice
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2003
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