How to Protect Yourself and Your Community Against Violent Abusers
Survivors know all too well that their abusers hide in plain sight.
We hope we notice them before they see us walking through town. We hope we’re not alone when they do see us or find us. We hope that you, anyone out there, believe us.
The lack of accountability for the harm women and other marginalized groups experience is atrocious. Life-altering and ending. Often, we are left reimagined and forced to become anew.
I use the word survivors to respect the fact that many people died from the harm I and others have experienced. I used survivors because I honor their passing every time I acknowledge our life.
My focus in this article is on women-identified persons who experience violence. To address one aspect of that, I developed a working list of demands for workplace and community accountability. My goal is to get a stronger and larger conversation about what's possible to protect one another.
If we know that the law enforcement approach doesn’t always prevent sexual assault, domestic violence, and other instances from occurring, then we must be brave enough to take matters into our own hands to protect ourselves.
I eluded this in previous writings, asking for human resource departments to step up their screening to identify people who have caused community harm. I think that protections go beyond the workplace, but it’s a place to start.
In a previous opinion piece, originally published in 2018 in the Portland Tribune, I stated:
“Many of us work alongside perpetrators of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse and do not know it. How can public and private sector organizations protect their employees if they are not even considering the impact of their own staff?
I urge us to consider asking more questions and including survivors of violence in our equity work.
How do we operationalize the need to include community harm (regardless of legal action) as a basis of a character standard for our colleagues? When perpetrators are unchecked, they don’t heal the wounds they have that cause harm. Not intentionally screening for this hurts everyone.
The system doesn’t provide enough protection for survivors of violence, especially women. My own personal experience mirrors this reality as I have perpetrators hiding in plain sight without any accountability.
They are trying to work with you. They are asking you for funding. They are re-branding themselves to hide from the harm they have caused and continue to perpetuate.
Below is a 10 point plan of sorts, modeled after the Black Panther Party demands.
They are demands to protect survivors from their abusers but, more importantly, to prevent future violence.
1 — We believe that women, women of color, the LGBTQ community, differently-abled people, the elderly, and immigrants are constant targets of violence (inside and outside of their homes) and must be supported. Investigations must be able to occur without the traditional involvement of law enforcement.
2 -- We believe that abusers' control over their past and current victims are the only strings holding their lies together. We know that once these lies are revealed, their ability to hurt others will diminish.
3 — We believe that bystanders are accountable for the harm caused by perpetrators, when they participate, hide, lie or ignore the harm being done to someone else.
4 — We believe that survivors and their families should continue to organize themselves and with allies who support them in their healing journey. There is strength in numbers.
5 — We believe that the private and public sector should seriously reassess their hiring processes to screen for how a person has or hasn’t hurt people. Not having a criminal record doesn’t make you a safe person. There needs to be a deeper screening of candidates, especially those who are working with children and families.
6 -- We know that white supremacy informs the false perception of a person’s worth, criminality, or value in society. We reject any belief that invalidates the inherent value of any person.
7 -- We demand that people everywhere must do something if they see something. Countless people could have been saved from death if not protected if someone did something. We acknowledge the threat of violence can be a deterrent, but waiting for that perpetrator to finish with them, is sealing your own fate.
8 — We demand that all people live a life free of violence. This includes ourselves, our families, children, our elders, and future generations.
9 — We demand that accountability should start with the perpetrator's families and loved ones. If that cannot be done because of their complicity, community allies should step up and conduct their own investigation and support survivors in keeping them safe.
10 -- We believe that preventing perpetrators from causing additional harm and holding them accountable for the damage they have caused will prevent violence and allow communities to heal fully.
Are we willing to have perpetrators working alongside perpetrators, unchecked? Do we want them teaching our children and leading community-based organizations without any accountability? Are we willing to have perpetrators of abuse giving speeches on justice while they go home and diminish someone’s personhood with their hands? I am not.”
On November 20th, 2020, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed “Daniel’s Law” to much praise within the government and the media. Named after the late Daniel Anderl, the son of U.S. District Court Judge Esther Salas, who was tragically murdered by a self-proclaimed “anti-feminist attorney” who used the internet to find details on the family online, this law contains several provisions meant to protect the personal information of judges, attorneys, law enforcement, and their families on the web.
This bill’s internet-facing nature and apparent importance, as attacks on public officials such as judges have increased in the past few years, leaves it on the cutting-edge of privacy protections in the United States, which might allow it to become very influential. However, whatever influence this law may have, and its effects on the general state of privacy in the United States, is still up for contention. In this blog, I mean to address those contentions, laying out how this law might serve to be a good first step in our efforts to increase privacy, but--primarily--outlining how this law might lead to unequal privacy outcomes and exploitation, especially given the inclusion of law enforcement in its clauses.
To sum up the potential and dangers of this law; on the one hand, if, in response to this law, there is an expansion of privacy laws for the United States in general, as well as systemic, deep reforms to policing and police accountability in the United States, this will have a net positive effect on the privacy and safety of the United States public. On the other hand, I fear that if this law is left alone—without that two-fold change in how we approach these issues—we would have the worst of both worlds, segmented and unequal privacy policies for certain communities and a policing system where grassroots protest efforts to enforce accountability become severely debilitated. Ironically, this would only further detach the police from the communities they are supposed to serve, reducing trust while at the same time not providing any equivalent trade-off regarding privacy.
I severely worry about the latter case occurring because there has been little to no discussion or debate on part of the media or government regarding these issues. In fact, if one were to learn about this issue from the media, you probably would not know that this law affected law enforcement at all. CBS New York’s report on the passage of this law does not even mention police, instead only mentioning “judges and prosecutors,” and many other reports on this law bury this fact within the text of the reports themselves, and only mention “judges and prosecutors” being impacted in the headlines. The Hill’s blog serves as a prime example of this sort of reporting, only mentioning law enforcement once in the entire article, and only then when it quotes from the law directly.
These articles take far greater care in discussing the specifics of the Daniel Anderl murder and the continuing threat of violence against judges and prosecutors than any of the broader, and more controversial, issues of privacy and policing. The latter of which has taken on many new developments since the George Floyd murder. Whether or not these redactions were intentional on part of the media is unclear, but they do conform to a common pattern regarding legislation where a specifically tragic event is used to smuggle in potentially controversial policies with little pushback. This one is especially complicated however, because— broadly—parts of this legislation seem laudable and well-deserved, it is attempting to increase privacy, and during a particularly scary time for many public officials, but we should not be ignorant of what we have to lose if this legislation is not responded to appropriately.
Without an appropriate response, efforts to inform and pressure communities into
instituting changes in policing would be greatly diminished. Though various formal movements to reform policing are attempting to find their place, such efforts still remain very dispersed and localized, and still are very much in doubt, and. In the meantime, grassroots efforts that take the response into the communities of police officers will be greatly diminished if this law remains as is. The ability to set up protests at the homes of police officers would be curtailed as this law would prevent the posting of addresses online by making it a criminal offense to post them “knowingly, with purpose to expose another to harassment or risk of harm to life or property, or in reckless disregard of the probability of such exposure,” essentially, at precisely the time it would be the most fruitful to protest officers who committed misconduct.
These sorts of home-protests might seem uncomfortable—and even potentially dangerous—to many, but the discomforting nature of protest is often the point. Systemic police violence is far more than “uncomfortable,” it is deadly, traumatic, and has deep roots in racist systems which have been perpetuated for centuries. Black residential communities were targeted legally for decades through realty practices which stifled investment and ensured segregation, this cratered their value and--through poverty, corruption, and underinvestment--led to the gutted communities we see now. This process served to justify the over-policing of black communities which, on top of leading to the startlingly high rate of police brutality in these areas, also feeds into a criminal justice system which punishes and incarcerates black men at a disarmingly disproportionate rate. Given these experiences, symbolically taking the “discomfort” black communities have suffered to the homes of police officers can be justified.
Furthermore, such protests illuminate the fact that despite all appearances, police officers are first and foremost public officials that can be held liable by the public because they are members of the community. This point is not often reiterated enough, as it appears that the police often enjoy special privileges legally when they commit misconduct. To protest at their homes brings them back down to earth, it reveals that—regardless of any institutional barriers which inherently protect the police—a simple protest can lay bare any of their insecurities, as the well-reported, overdramatic police response to the protests at Derek Chauvin’s house after George Floyd’s death reveal. If Daniel’s Law expands to other states, such valuable spectacles might not be possible.
By Michael Guzy
Communications & Policy Fellow, Prevention at the Intersections
On September 14th, 2020, an Office of Inspector General Complaint published by Project South claimed that there were “high rates of hysterectomies done to immigrant women”[i] being performed without their “informed consent”[ii] at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC). Information later revealed this to be the work of one doctor, Dr Mahendra Amin, and that 57 women were affected.
During a year seemingly defined by cruelty—by the state, by the police, by institutional and systemic inequality—and the United States’ complicity with such cruelty historically, these claims seemed to be echoes of another dark area of the United States’ history: the deep, long, and unfortunately not-too-remote relationship between the United States and eugenics policies. This blog will briefly discuss the history of eugenics in the United States and link it up to the present-day, surveying the rhetoric and practices in the immigration system which have led up to this disgraceful situation.
Eugenics policies, inspired by a Darwinist conceptualization of genetic “cleanliness,” specifically targeted the poor and “mentally unfit” to be involuntarily sterilized throughout the 20th century in the United States. At its height, more than 30 states had some form of eugenics policy deployed against certain groups. These policies were partially[iii] the influence of Nazi Germany’s far more widespread programs of forced sterilization and euthanasia, which ultimately provided for some of the methods and justifications that allowed for the Holocaust to occur. Given the connections between race, class, and conceptions of “mental fitness,” it is unsurprising that minorities, specifically Mexican, African-American, and Native American women, were frequently the targets of sterilization campaigns in the United States, often coercively or without their fully-informed consent.
These hysterectomies, then, conjure up an uncomfortable history which involves eugenics, racism, and genocide. These points are especially concerning due to the consistent present-day rhetoric surrounding undocumented Latin-American women which labels them as “breeders,” “criminals,” and thus supposedly threats to “national security.”[iv] These labels already have various implications in regards to immigration policy, they are used often by the news media and the state to legitimize and justify both the widespread detention and criminalization of such women and the continuing efforts to increase surveillance and control over vulnerable minority populations. They also speak to more basic demographic fears within certain parts of the white population, of them “losing control” demographically to a non-white group and “chaos” and “crime” ensuing.
These sorts of labels can become a productive ground for racialized thinking, which easily can transform into more “practical” measures which include medical procedures that reduce fertility—eugenics. Unfortunately, this escalation from rhetoric to reality can find a very fruitful home in ICE detention centers.
The situation regarding the hysterectomies become amplified by problems present in many ICE facilities. These women are locked in detention centers with inadequate and confusing systems of legal counsel and accountability, have little recourse against these procedures, and –given the circumstances—can risk deportation at any time, as is occurring now with several women claiming that these procedures happened. When evidence and witnesses can just be deported away, it becomes only a matter of time that bad actors can leak through into the system and do what they want. Without appropriate measures protecting these women, and ICE facilities show time and again their deficiencies in that regard, it would not be surprising to see events like these hysterectomies—or worse— to continue to be found out into the near future.
To put these hysterectomies into a more specific context, as in within the ICDC, the majority of the Project South complaint against the ICDC, which has gone relatively under discussed due to the flurry of activity surrounding the hysterectomies, does not discuss the hysterectomies at all. Instead, the report mainly goes into detail about several claims regarding the gross and intentional disregard for CDC measures meant to ensure COVID-19 safety at the ICDC.[v]
This information should in itself be cause for alarm, as it should be a given that detention facility employees need to ensure the health and safety of their detainees, and when that—very basic—standard seems to not be in place, it all but ensures that worse things can and will happen at these facilities. This report, on top of the many problems already plaguing the immigrant detention system, suggest an institution, and a facility, at its breaking point, where any sort of virulent idea and practice can occur with little or no accountability. In a facility where all of the responsibility lies on the staff in charge, even the passive or unknowing allowance of such practices should be an indictment of their general attitudes towards those they are meant to guard.
These hysterectomies might not be “widespread,” they only occurred with one doctor and do not seem to be part of a wider institutional program, but when seen contextually within a broken immigration detention system, they become symptoms of a historical sickness within our country which considers many groups of people unfit to prosper within this country. We might not have explicit eugenics policies now, but we allow people to be deprived of a full life all the same.
Regardless of whatever new information comes out about the hysterectomies, the root takeaway of this report should be that we have an immigration detention system which fosters a general disrespect towards undocumented immigrants. If we are going to change this, we must talk about our system of detainment itself, and what can be done to ensure accountability and respect, instead of just jumping from one cruelty to another without any seeming change.
[i] See pages 18-20 of the complaint
[ii] See page 19 of the complaint
[iii] I say “partially” here because, though German and American eugenicists were close to one another and often influenced each other, Germany had its own independent history with eugenics which developed its own ideas, specifically in regards to Nordic and pro-Aryan supremacy which were not prevalent in American eugenics. For more information see Garland E. Allen’s review/critique of Edwin Black’s work on the subject: Allen, G. E. (2004). Was Nazi eugenics created in the US? EMBO Reports, 5(5), 451-452. doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.embor.7400158
[iv] Of course, this rhetoric is not limited to Trump, as oftentimes the media and other government officials have fed into this sort of discourse, and this tendency is not especially new. For a broader analysis of the connections between anti-immigrant discourse, national security, and how they relate to immigrant women’s bodies, see Lugo-Lugo, Carmen R. and Bloodsworth-Lugo, Mary K. (2014) "‘Anchor/Terror Babies’ and Latina Bodies: Immigration Rhetoric in the 21st Century and the Feminization of Terrorism," Journal of Interdisciplinary Feminist Thought: Vol. 8: Iss. 1, Article 1. Also see Huang, Priscilla. (2008) “Anchor Babies, Over-Breeders, and the Population Bomb: The Reemergence of Nativism and Population Control in Anti-Immigration Policies,” Harvard Law and Policy Review: Vol.2, 385-406. https://harvardlpr.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/20/2013/05/2.2_9_Huang.pdf
[v] This includes, but is not limited to, lack of medical supplies, lack of proper quarantining procedures, staff refusing to provide COVID testing, and the intentional mishandling of medical documentation—which includes the shredding and forging medical documents.