The authors of the new book, Abolition. Feminism. Now. discuss why racialized state violence and gender-based violence have to be fought together, by
In almost all debates about police and prison abolition, someone will undoubtedly ask: What about the rapists? We tell ourselves very simplistic stories about gender violence, particularly sexual assault. The story usually goes like this: if you’re bad, you go to jail, but if you’re good the police will protect you. Prisons are important because they keep rapists—and people who abuse women in general—locked away to protect the public.
This story, while conveniently tidy, obscures more complicated truths. Survivors of gender violence—particularly those who are Black, queer, trans, Indigenous, poor, or nonbinary—are often also victims of state violence. Most women and girls in prisons are survivors of sexual abuse; thousands now face compounding forms of violence behind bars. Police often dismiss or criminalize people who report sexual violence, which is one of the reasons why less than 31 percent of sexual assaults are reported to police. Those who do report receive scant justice. Only 5 percent of sexual assaults lead to an arrest and only 1.3 percent are ever referred to a prosecutor. Worse yet, sexual violence is the second most frequently reported form of police misconduct after excessive force. Police households are more likely to experience domestic violence than the general population.
It turns out that many of the people and places that claim to protect the public from gender violence are often horrific sources of that very same violence. And –unlike a neighbor, partner, or family member—the abuse carries the power and protection of the state. Suddenly, our simple stories fall apart; the solutions become less clear. Who do you call when the police officer is the rapist? What do you do when calling the cops on your abuser brings violence—not relief—to your door?
This is the challenge taken up by Angela Y. Davis, Gina Dent, Erica R. Meiners, and Beth E. Richie in their new book Abolition. Feminism. Now. They introduce readers to a global movement of survivors, overwhelmingly Black, brown, queer, and trans, who realized decades ago that violence in the home could not be solved by violence from the state. That the care and safety survivors need will never be delivered by the people and places that violate and imprison them. So, instead, these survivors rejected carceral solutions and built new community-based systems of care, support, and accountability. They organized mutual aid for survivors; pooled their money, time, and resources to release family and friends from prison; and fought tooth and nail as cities responded to violence by draining public services and fueling mass incarceration. This is abolition feminism: the union of two movements—one seeking to build a world that negates the need for prisons and police, the other seeking to end gender violence—that targets deeply ingrained forms of violence that keep people trapped, in danger, and distinctly unfree.
Abolition. Feminism. Now. is a demand in every way. It pushes readers not to accept simple stories but to embrace complexity and new ways of thinking. But it is also a celebration of feminist agitators and freedom fighters who undermine the carceral state while building new sources safety, repair, and accountability. Of an ever-changing, growing, and evolving movement that puts survivors at the center of its analysis, not the periphery. And of a historic political struggle that considers freedom worth the fight. And, in the end, the authors make it clear that abolition feminism isn’t on its way; it’s already unfolding all around us.