Whilst prisons and policing are currently the dominant, mainstream response to gendered violence, this was not always the case. The modern feminist anti-violence movement that rose up to confront domestic and sexual violence came about in the context of revolutionary movements in the 1970s.
Many feminist groups saw the police and state as being thefoundation for patriarchal violence in the home and therefore invested in other remedies such as campaigns for benefits and housing for survivors as well as education to prevent abusive relationships.
However, the fallout from the global financial crisis hit many radical movements hard and many refuges sought state funding to sustain themselves.
Since the 1980s, the state has gradually withdrawn funding from community-based responses to gendered violence, instead favouring a law-and-order approach.
The services advocating for police and prison-based responses were more likely to be funded, and the more critical organisations were incentivised to follow suit or risk closure.
Why further policing can cause more harm
Carceral feminist policies on gendered violence tend to focus on increasing the number of arrests and prosecutions as well as longer prison sentences for those convicted. Carceral feminists argue that removing the perpetrator from the situation and locking them up will protect survivors and end the abuse.
Additionally, increasing the presence of police in the lives of survivors has led to many being criminalised for other matters such as sex work, involvement in the drug trade or immigration enforcement.
Disproportionate impacts on communities of colour
Over half of police forces in England and Wales have a policy of arresting those reporting domestic or sexual violence where they are suspected of having insecure immigration.
Gendered violence occurs across all classes and races. However, some are far more likely to face a carceral response to harm perpetrated in their community. Indeed, police departments have cynically used the additional powers associated with domestic and sexual violence policies to further criminalise poor communities of colour.
In the 1980s Black communities responded to extreme levels of police harassment and violence with uprisings or ‘riots’.
The police use coercive and controlling behaviour as part of their job. They have the power to stop, detain and strip search people with a vast array of arsenal to ensure compliance, from batons and tasers to pepper spray and guns. Police officers use both authorised and unauthorised violence as part of their day job, and this includes gendered violence.
What is Abolition Feminism?
Abolition feminism argues that police and prisons should be dismantled whilst also seeking alternative ways to address gendered harm in our communities.
Recognising that relying on state coercion to address harm in our communities only perpetuates violence, abolition feminism instead invests in community-based responses and transformative justice.
Further, communities can create their own emergency responses that both support survivors whilst recognising that it is our collective responsibility to support our friends, family members and neighbours to change when they have perpetrated harm. TheBay Transformative Justice Collective uses pod mapping exercises as the starting point for reorganising communities in a way that responds effectively to abuse without calling the police.
One year after Sarah Everard and British policing remains in crisis. We are faced with the opportunity to reimagine a world without police and prisons and instead increase our collective capacity to rebuild our communities to respond to our needs and address harm at the root.
Luci says, “For this piece I was thinking of ways of simplifying what abolition means visually and the things that cropped up were the idea of breaking, looking and thinking. I was thinking about this sequentially, envisioning (in a silly and naive way) what the steps would look like towards abolition if you were to put it in an instruction manual that could be read and understood by anyone.”