Reimagining the Violence Against Women Act from a Transformative Justice Perspective: Decarceration and Financial Reparations for Criminalized Survivors of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence
While the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has long been venerated as a major legislative victory for those subjected to sexual and gender-based violence (S/GBV), VAWA is less often understood as the funding boon that it is for police, prosecutors, and prisons. A growing literature on the harms of carceral feminism has shown that VAWA has never ensured the safety of Black and Brown women; queer, trans, and gender-nonconforming people; sex workers; drug users; poor, working class, homeless, and housing insecure people; migrants; and others who do not fit the “everywoman” archetype; nor has it recognized their right to protect themselves from violence.
I contribute to this literature in three ways: First, drawing from the rich narrative traditions of critical race theory and critical legal studies, I tell untold and undertold stories of state violence against victims of S/GBV. Second, I weave together knowledge produced by scholars across disciplines, as well as by transformative justice organizers and practitioners, to situate my illustrations in a landscape of carceral violence. Third, I build on the written work of those scholars, organizers, and practitioners to propose transformative justice approaches to S/GBV. Specifically, I propose that we use VAWA to meet the demand that all criminalized survivors be freed by incentivizing the expanded use of state executives’ clemency powers, as well as by expanding the use of clemency at the federal level. I also argue that an anti-carceral VAWA must include financial reparations for criminalized survivors, as compensation for the harms that the state has inflicted on them through unjust prosecutions and imprisonment, as well as for the violence they have been forced to endure in prisons, jails, and the custody of police officers.