Content warning: discussion of rape and abuse
Convincing the public that domestic abuse, rape, and general misogynist treatment that undermines the perception of individual women as people who should be taken seriously has been a struggle that can be a double bind for us. With crimes such as sexual assault, feminists have had to work through the existing policing and court systems to protect the vulnerable. However, police take their own victims and their spouses are reported to have higher instances of domestic abuse, and there are several cases of serial rapists being able to continue their sprees for extended periods because they are police officers. I find it unfortunate that for many victims, being able to fend off their abusers means filing a police report to be able to work their cases through the court system.
Another problem with these perceptions being mixed up with the whole of bourgeois law is the exploitation of “the abused woman” in defenses for women who have in fact carried out heinous crimes. I have become acquainted with cases where once all other plausible defenses are exhausted, attorneys will reach to make claims that their client suffered from battered woman syndrome or that they were brainwashed by abusers and couldn’t help but concede to their demands. While these women were lucid enough to hatch and participate in elaborate schemes that targeted the truly innocent in conspiracy with others, they apparently couldn’t help but be slaves to their abusers through periods of freedom when they could have used these not so perfect outlets to get away and avoid harming, often, other women in service to abusive men. I would think that perhaps citing males’ ability to exercise power through long-standing patriarchal norms that indeed coerce women into competition with each other for male attention would be a more reasonable defense to concoct according to lawyer servants who claim to serve the public. This could easily point toward a diminished state of mind in the instant of committing crimes on behalf of female clients and establish some precedents instead of breaking down the meaning of being an abused woman who is truly innocent.
“The abused woman” should not be turned into a cliche, and by unwittingly participating in this, one is abetting a patriarchal culture by exploiting the hard legal work women in the field have committed themselves to when attorneys use it as a last resort. This work involved has also meant forging coalitions with establishment women’s organizations that are fraught with problems as they often rely on the philanthropy of the owning class who of course have interests in these hard won rights and privileges reaching only so far. However, there is a dialectic at work here that must be recognized. The more room that is created within these confines does not mean that we should place greater reliance on “the system working”, it means that we should maneuver carefully to shed any need for it as consciousness can be altered for the betterment of women worldwide.
What does this mean for resistance communities? The answer is manifold, and I won’t pretend that I can list them all in blog posts. There is much thought that must be put into action to address what the future could look like. First, class must be a marker to determine who exploits these claims and, as they do so, who really suffers from their opportunism. Second, the often dreamily mentioned alternative institutions need to be put into place right now with the insistence that these do not need official recognition. Turning the ideal of bypassing policing to protect women into an institutional requirement among groups either virtually or on the ground means resisting the symptoms and signs that lead to greater violence or even the erasure of women’s voices in resistance communities.
How do you rate in backing up, particularly, working class women who make serious accusations or when you see questionable things go down? I have faltered at times — as I mentioned earlier with that competition that can cloud our judgment, patriarchy relies on all genders to internalize and continually legitimize “the way things are” to keep over half the population on earth under the thumb of male dominated ruling institutions. When I reflect on the times I haven’t been taken seriously about the abuse I’ve faced as people who I thought were allies or comrades have gone on to maintain friendly relations with these abusers, failing to hold them accountable, I can count two people who’ve consistently been in solidarity with me, who I can trust to speak openly and honestly with about these situations. Two. Fucking sad. We need to turn the two one woman or another may cite into two more multiplied by the hundreds and thousands. That may sound cliche in itself, but remember, rape and abuse are now viewed as societal problems that can even be worked through courts and worthy of compensatory and punitive damages thanks the work of a dedicated few even if the focus can be out of whack at times. We have the everyday ability to sharpen that focus.