Are there better ways to respond to intimate violence than incarceration?
What practical options exist, and what are their limitations?
The pursuit of justice for people who have experienced intimate violence is a unique and challenging one. Our communities are entrenched in the realities of intimate violence; it is part of our lives and yet considered delicate and treated as foreign. Existing institutional systems for the management of intimate violence in our communities are blind-sighted by the narrow pursuit of prosecution. What Andrea Smith calls the “criminal justice/social service model” funnels individuals into a range of state agencies, effectively disengaging community organizing around violence prevention and intervention (Smith).
The primary issue with the criminal justice/social service model is that it focuses exclusively on the perpetrator of violence and not those who have been harmed. It also fails to situate violence within the larger context of a society that both subliminally and explicitly condones violence, particularly against women and those deemed sexually deviant. Moreover, the criminal legal system’s logic is enforced through policing and aggressive institutions that at times reciprocate the violence they claim to address.
Restorative justice (RJ), one alternative to traditional punishment, grew out of the recognition that crime causes harms that are not addressed by incarcerating offenders alone. RJ has been particularly popular and effective in cases involving non-violent juvenile offenders. RJ is used in some circumstances for intimate violence intervention, but its role in this context is more contested. Many critiques of Restorative Justice have emerged. The anti-violence movement in particular notes that the framework of the state limits RJ. Additionally, a strong tension can exist between the interest of the community and the needs of the victim/survivor. Smith draws from Goel in observing that victims/survivors experience pressure to “reconcile” and “restore.” (Smith; Goel) This critique is particularly relevant to cases of intimate violence.
In Alternative Interventions to Intimate Violence, Mimi Kim discusses the exporting of violence intervention to organizations that are thought to exist for the community but are not the community itself. Kim says, “we have created a system outside of community- in shelters, advocacy centers, child welfare systems, foster care homes…to protect us from violence, complete with a qualified set of experts to manage our way toward that mirage called safety.” This phenomenon distances common people from violence intervention, and allows the community to function under the false idea that intimate violence is experience by and to be dealt with by a select few. Thus, these organizations, while providing support to some, actually disempower communities.
“Community accountability” is an umbrella term used by the anti-violence movement that refers to a wide range of strategies that are not reliant on the criminal legal system (Kim). Incite! Women of Color Against Violence calls for the creation of “strategies to address violence within our communities, including domestic violence, sexual violence, and child abuse, that don’t rely on police or prisons.” (Incite!) Community accountability can form within existing groups not exclusively dedicated to addressing intimate violence, such as families, friends, faith organizations, schools, and workplaces. Community accountability is experimental in nature and not singular in form.
In contrast to the criminal legal system, which focuses on achieving safety for the individual (commonly through physical separation), groups such as Incite! and Critical Resistance seek collective action for the more inclusive goal of liberation. Kim notes that these groups understand that “for oppressed people, the possibility of individual safety is a myth or luxury afforded to the privileged few.” (Kim)
The idea of storytelling, or success and failure sharing is an important one to some organizations within the anti-violence movement. These movements seek to engage a network of communities in a constant dialogue, forming a collective of information about methods, mistakes, and ideas for conflict transformation, violence intervention, and communities committed to collective, libratory action. (Kim)
Alternative, community-based strategies for responding to intimate violence are limited by the reality of a society that does not promote sustained community support, non-violent, transformative confrontation, or a culture of empowerment of those individuals and populations most in need of assistance. Even the most progressive communities are limited by deeply embedded racism, sexism, homophobia, ablism, etc. Any effective strategy for intimate violence intervention, whether functioning within the state or within a radical, anarchist community must actively address these internalized limitations.
-Incite! Women of Color Against Violence and Critical Resistance. Statement on Gender Violence and the Prison Industrial Complex Color of Violence: The INCITE! Anthology. South End Press. August, 2006.
-Kim, Mimi. Alternative Interventions to Intimate Violence: Defining Political and Pragmatic Challenges. Restorative Justice and Violence Against Women. Oxford University Press. 2010. Ed. James Ptacek.
-Smith, Andrea. Beyond Restorative Justice: Radical Organizing Against Violence. Restorative Justice and Violence Against Women. Oxford University Press. 2010. Ed. James Ptacek.