W.O.M.A.N., Inc. at #SurvivedandPunished: A Radical Coalition to End the Criminalization of Survivors

Last month, we were honored to be one of several awesome agencies co-sponsoring #SurvivedandPunished: A Radical Coalition to End the Criminalization of Survivors.This 4 hour event held at UC Berkeley was organized by California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Free Marissa Now, Stand With Nan-Hui, and Center For Race & Gender, UC Berkeley. Attended by advocates and passionate community members alike, #SurvivedandPunished featured a film, panel and discussion on the criminalization of domestic and sexual violence survivors.

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The film “Out in the Night” chronicles the experiences of four African-American lesbian women from New Jersey who are charged with assault and attempted murder after experiencing sexual harassment and a potential attack. After being violently cat-called, threatened and approached by a straight man during a night out in New York, a scuffle ensues and the man in stabbed.imagesThe four women are arrested and charged with gang assault, assault and attempted murder; they are subsequently known as the “New Jersey Four”. The following trial and media accounts reflect how race, gender, class and sexuality intersect in such a way that these women were painted as a dangerous gang of ‘bloodthirsty’ lesbians, while completely ignoring the fact that they were victims of violent, homophobic language as well as dangerous threats. This film contributes to our understanding of how the criminal-legal system sometimes places survivors of violence into a double-bind where, as a result of being part of a marginalized group they are often left without recourse to the legal system for their safety, yet when they defend their very lives, they are often re-victimized by that same criminal-legal system. One of the “New Jersey Four”, Renata Hill, was present for the screening as well as for the Q&A after the film.

During the panel, individuals who organized the event and speakers from the Transgender Law Center and TGI Justice Project shared their insight on their work, on the myriad of oppressive systems that collaborate to create a criminal justice system that fails and even criminalizes survivors of violence, and on their experiences, some as incarcerated survivors themselves. Afterwards, they had attendees break out into groups to engage in rich, strategic discussions on how we can work as a community to address all these complex issues at hand. What do we picture in an ideal world with an ideal social construct, justice system and ideal reservoir of resources? How do we address state sanctioned violence? How do we better support survivors in immigrant detention and deportation proceedings? How do we end a system that criminalizes survival techniques of those experiencing abuse, particularly marginalized groups? What do we need? How do we get there? There are more questions to be asked, none of which can be definitively answered, but it is powerful to see gatherings like this come together sharing knowledge and passion dedicated to making an impact and working towards a better future.

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Many thanks to the organizers, speakers, co-sponsors and participants that made this event possible. It was a phenomenal experience.

To learn more about the Survived and Punished Project, click here.

– Elena Alvarado-Strasser, DV Advocate & Shaena Spoor, Program Assistant

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