Wrestling With Our Contradictions: Reflections on the Anti-Violence Movement and the Fight to End Domestic Violence

October 15, 2018
Written by Coral Feigin, WPI-State Class of ’17 and WFC Administrative Assistant

As we continue to move through this year’s National Domestic Violence Awareness Month – organizers fighting for gender justice across the country are remembering loved ones who have died as a result of domestic violence and lifting up the experiences of survivors and reflecting on how to fundamentally shift the structural violence that leads to interpersonal harm. While awareness is key towards ending interpersonal violence, it is also clear that we need so much more. We are in desperate need to struggle through the major contradictions of our movements if our goal is to end domestic violence in our communities and achieve collective liberation.

At the Women’s Foundation of California, we have long been a supporter and co-conspirator in the anti-violence movement. The Women’s Policy Institute, a program of the Women’s Foundation, has passed 4 state bills and ran countless others related to supporting the needs of survivors and addressing the root causes of this violence. The anti-violence movement has made great strides in bringing to the forefront the issues and needs of survivors of domestic violence. And while this work is crucial – there are also other aspects of the movement that are directly undercutting the needs of survivors.

Thinking about moving towards solutions that are based in collective liberation, this National Domestic Violence Awareness Month we want to open up a conversation about the contradictions of the anti-violence movement specifically thinking about:

  • The ways that the anti-violence movement relies on policing, imprisonment and the criminal legal system to address interpersonal violence. This ranges from passing legislation which entrenches the police as a suitable resource to respond to violence, organizing for longer prison sentences for people who have enacted domestic violence and relying on legal solutions to violence such as restraining orders as resolutions to violence instead of community accountability processes or other transformative approaches AND
  • The ways that the anti-violence movement centers the experiences and realities of white cis wealthy women survivors at the expense of many other types of survivors – specifically Black and Brown survivors who are currently or formerly incarcerated, street based or houseless and trans women or femmes. This shows up in the reliance on the criminal legal system as mentioned above, an inability to respect the dignity of trans women and femmes and a lack of meaningful intersection with other movements.

These two interrelated tendencies create some messy contradictions. The first tendency attempts to fight interpersonal violence with state violence ensuring that the resolution of the conflict will end in more violence. This is especially worrisome as many of the seeds for how violence grows are rooted in policing, imprisonment and the criminal legal system. The second tendency attempts to fight interpersonal violence by centering the people least impacted by systems of violence and oppression thus ensuring that the solutions will not be grounded in collective liberation.

The organizations that move us forward are those who are explicit about their divestment from the criminal legal system and who center the survivors most often left out of the broader movement. In doing so, the work of these organizations chips away at the structures that create interpersonal violence namely white supremacy, the criminal legal system, cis and male supremacy and capitalism.

  1. Survived and Punished is an autonomous network of organizers in California, New York City and Chicago fighting for prison abolition by focusing on criminalized survivors. Survived and Punished formed out of the campaign work to free Marissa Alexander, a Black cis woman who was incarcerated after firing a warning shot near her abusive partner, and the campaign work to free Nan-Hui Jo, a Korean cis woman survivor who was targeted and imprisoned in ICE detention. Survived and Punished’s work is so crucial because it makes explicit the ways that the prison system does not support the needs of survivors and that vast numbers of prisoners, especially cis and trans women, are incarcerated as a direct result of the violence they experienced.
  2. Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN) is an organization located on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. LACAN works to support the organizing of street based people and people living in poverty in LA to fight for real solutions to interpersonal and structural violence. In addition to pushing for affordable housing and resisting the criminalization of homeless people’s basic life sustaining activities, LACAN also organizes cis and trans women through the Downtown Women’s Action Coalition. LACAN’s work helps us see the ways that people become houseless as a result of domestic violence and also the increased level of risks that people face who live on the streets for further physical, emotional and sexual violence.
  3. The Transgender Gendervariant Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP) is an organization located in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. TGIJP supports currently and formerly incarcerated trans people, centering the needs of formerly incarcerated Black trans women, to fight for prison abolition and provide competent re-entry services. TGIJP’s work shows us the ways that trans people, especially Black trans women, are so often incarcerated for surviving violence and that their time incarcerated is mediated by constant physical, emotional and sexual violence from both prison guards and other prisoners.

These organizations push us to question the use of policing, imprisonment or the criminal legal system to address violence. It is exactly for this reason that so many visionaries across the country are thinking about, experimenting with and fighting for solutions to violence that don’t use additional violence, such as transformative justice. Transformative justice involves non-legal community accountability processes that hold the belief that collective liberation is key to resolving interpersonal justice, the conditions that create violence must be transformed in our resolutions, and that state responses to violence perpetuate cycles of violence.

At the Women’s Foundation of California we hold intersectionality as one of our key principles.  We understand intersectionality as the idea that people have different relationships to oppression, privilege and access and that acknowledging, understanding and moving from this difference makes our liberation work strong and effective. I wonder what possibilities could come from addressing these contradictions in the anti-violence movement in both our organizing work and in ourselves.

What do you think it could look like to resolve interpersonal violence without policing, imprisonment or the criminal legal system? How can we work together to support the needs of incarcerated survivors, street based survivors and trans women and femme survivors? What is the work that not only resolves interpersonal violence but the conditions that create violence? And how do we get there together?

Coral is a WPI-State Class of ’17 alum and WFC’s Administrative Assistant. She is also a community organizer who does work around queer and trans liberation, prison abolition, harm reduction and racial justice. 


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