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Seeking Justice for Victims while Dealing with an Unjust Prison System

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April 14, 2014

Trigger warning: sexual and domestic violence

I will be honest: I hate focusing on perpetrators of sexual assault. I like to focus my energy to make sure that the victim is working towards restoring themselves and that their needs are not ignored. At the same time, we have to think about perpetrators of sexual violence because without them, this issue wouldn’t exist.

As a person who works in domestic violence, I often see the brutal effects of sexual violence on victims. I know personally, I struggle with the desire to dehumanize perpetrators of violence. When I hear about horrible violence, I want to send that perpetrator straight to prison.

It’s my first instinct. I become angry and I want the person to be punished. As a person who also wants to work to dismantle the prison industrial complex, I also realize that prison is not a long-term solution by any means. Our prison system has far too many flaws: it depends on housing young men of color for money, dehumanizes prisoners while ignoring the needs of victims, depends on having a number of beds filled, takes kids directly from school and pipelines them into prisons, and destroys families and communities. There are many reasons beyond these as to why our prison system is corrupt.

Here comes the question: How do we manage to seek justice for victims without perpetuating a prison system that is so unjust?

The truth is that true justice is rarely served within the criminal justice system. Only 3% of perpetrators end up facing consequences in the prison system. It’s also known that black perpetrators are more likely to go to jail than white perpetrators in any crime. People who are incarcerated go on to become victims of sexual assault themselves, with more than 200,000 prisoners each year being sexually assaulted.

The prison industrial complex cannot be ignored when discussing justice for victims. Victims sometimes choose not to report their sexual assaults due to issues with law enforcement. It’s not surprise that a woman of color who has witnessed police brutality in her community does not want to report her assault.

What about restorative justice efforts? Current efforts are not often successful. When it comes to restorative justice for perpetrators of domestic violence, only a portion of perpetrators actually reform long-term. In most cases, it can be difficult to keep track of perpetrators in order to measure how often they re-commit violence, and perpetrators are almost always repeat offenders.

There is no easy solution to the question at hand. We need ways to hold perpetrators accountable and to make sure that no one else is hurt. We need creative solutions that seek justice for survivors, yet do not dehumanize perpetrators. We also need to work at the root of the problem – a culture that blames victims and doesn’t teach about the importance of consent, respect for sexual partners and that women’s bodies are public property, and that assumes that only women are victims. We need to make change on all levels – before and after a crime happens – to end sexual violence.

This post is a part of a series in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Read the rest here.

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