Since publishing my recent article, “White Women: We Need to do Better,” I received a great deal of fearful comments from white people—white women, in particular—over the idea of a future without police.
One of the most common concerns I heard was from white women who felt defunding or disbanding the police meant jeopardizing their own protection from sexual violence. As discussed in my last article, this fear comes from the idea that the police are a tool for white women to use for their own protection—an idea that does not take into account the fact that police (especially male officers) often escalate situations, intimidate civilians and dismiss the concerns of or victimize those who called them in the first place.
The simple reality is, as it stands now: Police are not a safe or viable option for protecting minorities, Black folks and the LGBTQ+ community, in particular.
What I want to discuss here, with my fellow white women, is that the police are not here to protect us either.
For a long time, I was someone who said that I did not believe in prisons or policing—except for sexual perpetrators and abusers. I couldn’t think of these acts without upholding some sort of carceral and punitive system that otherwise, I did not support.
But I’d say this ignoring the fact that each time I was raped, after every assault or experience of abuse, I’d never gone to the police. The last thing I wanted was to be probed and prodded and doubted by a person—likely a man—who might touch me and invalidate my experience.
I am not alone in those feelings: Out of every 1,000 sexual assaults, only 310 are reported to the police.
Police Do Not Protect Against Sexual Assault and Abuse
Generally, our current carceral system has failed survivors. This is apparent through back-logged rape kits, disparate sentencing contingent on race and class (see Chanel Miller’s case against Brock Turner and the minimal and lenient, if any, sentencing of white men convicted of sexual assault). Combine this with the fact that, out of every 1000 sexual assaults, 995 perpetrators will walk free.
Further, our system is not deterring sexual violence effectively: Every 73 seconds, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted.
Here at Ms., our team is continuing to report through this global health crisis—doing what we can to keep you informed and up-to-date on some of the most underreported issues of this pandemic. We ask that you consider supporting our work to bring you substantive, unique reporting—we can’t do it without you. Support our independent reporting and truth-telling for as little as $5 per month.
Not only does our current system fail to protect victims, but the police are often the very perpetrators enacting sexual and gender-based violence.
- Sexual violence is the second most frequently reported form of police misconduct, after excessive force.
- A police officer is caught in an act of sexual misconduct every five days.
- At least 40 percent of police officers are perpetrators of domestic violence and abuse.
- In jail or prison, 60 percent of all sexual violence against inmates is perpetrated by the institution’s staff.
- Out of 38 of the largest police departments, only half have a policy saying that you can’t sexually assault a member of the public. In 35 states, it is legal for police officers to have sex with someone in their custody—otherwise known as rape.
We have the data and statistics right in front of us, proving police are not an adequate defense or solution for responding to sexual violence. Anti-abolitionists and white supremacists use these statistics to claim that we need our current system to ensure the safety of women—but shouldn’t these statistics prove that our current system is not working?
Why would a system that fails at least one person every 73 seconds be used as grounds for upholding said system?
A blaring dissonance exists when we (as I used to) critique the justice system for not holding perpetrators of gender-based violence accountable, while at the same time, defend this system when activists call for defunding or abolishing the police.
It seems whenever we, as a country, begin to shift in our collective consciousness and approach the discourse of radical change, the abuse and trauma of survivors and victims is co-opted and exploited to maintain current systems of power.
As white women, we owe it not only to Black folks but to ourselves to stop grasping at straws within an oppressive system and to support the development of an entirely new system, built with everyone in mind. Feminism calls for abolition. (In a powerful livestream last week, Angela Davis called for ‘Abolition Feminism Now.’)
Increased Rates of Sexual Violence on Black and LGBTQ People
Black women and other women of color have historically faced the risk of murder, brutality or other misconduct when calling on the police to respond to sexual or domestic violence—while, at the same time, experiencing higher rates of sexual violence than their white women counterparts. The rate of sexual violence against Black trans people and trans people of color is even higher.
After my last article, I read comments from white women who felt that a focus on the rights and lives of Black folks meant that their trauma and abuse did not matter. This logic of white women feeling defensive when reminded that Black women and other women of color experience abuse and sexual violence at heightened rates—that this somehow undermines their own experiences—holds the same underlying issue as saying ‘all lives matter.‘
I understand feeling defensive when it comes to our sexual trauma: Victims of sexual or gender-based violence are all too familiar with their pain being discredited, with people not caring about our safety.
However, this should only lead us to empathize with Black women and trans folks—who face even more scrutiny when reporting or sharing experiences of sexual abuse or gender-based violence.
No one is claiming that any woman or person should be unsafe, abused or violated. We can support the safety of all women and simultaneously say that Black Women’s Lives Matter—because they are in more consistent danger than white women’s lives. Writer and activist Rachel Cargle clearly outlines and expands on this issue in her recent Instagram post:
The Need for Intersectionality
For any feminist movement to be intersectional, it must actively work towards police abolition and a new system that works to protect all lives—particularly those at the greatest risk in our current system.
When white women criticize Black activists for imagining an existence outside our current systems and state, and for advocating for the abolition of police, we are holding onto an oppressive and limited mindset. Black feminist abolitionists have been outlining the need for abolition and tangible steps towards getting there. It is our duty as white women to study and support their work.
Know Your IX—a survivor and youth-led project focused on ending gender-based violence—compiled a reading list for survivors and advocates on Prison Industrial Complex Abolition, which you can find here. We should turn to the work of Angela Davis, Mariame Kaba, Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Kimberle Crenshaw, Zora Neale Hurston, Claudia Jones and the many other Black feminist scholars’ important writings on radical feminism, liberation, revolution and abolition.
It is our responsibility to let go of and work beyond those systems which consistently fail Black women and trans folks, and survivors in general. It is our responsibility to listen to the future that Black abolitionist feminists have envisioned for centuries: a future without police.
The coronavirus pandemic and the response by federal, state and local authorities is fast-moving. During this time, Ms. is keeping a focus on aspects of the crisis—especially as it impacts women and their families—often not reported by mainstream media. If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting our independent reporting and truth-telling for as little as $5 per month.