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Note: In response to the (apparently male) poster who suggested castration for rapists: men’s preoccupation with revenge, punishment, and violence is the problem, not the solution. One more time: violence is the problem. “The master’s tools can never dismantle the master’s house.” (Audre Lorde)

Also, thank you to the commenter who called on feminists to develop ways of talking more openly about rape. You’ve helped begin it.

No one wrote the rebuttal I thought Part 1 needed, so I wrote it myself.

Dear Naomi,

Why can’t you radicals learn to walk and chew gum at the same time? All the outrage at the mass incarceration system is fine, but where’s the outrage at the mass rape system, otherwise known as male supremacy?

Two War Fronts (4)

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(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

683,000 adult American women are forcibly raped each year. This equals 56,916 per month; 1,871 per day; 78 per hour; and 1.3 per minute. (From the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault,

How lovely to call for pie in the sky solutions – perfect, community-based, non-racist, just and compassionate solutions. Solutions that can never happen under the capitalist, sexist, and racist system we have. Solutions that our great-great-great-granddaughters may be able to implement under some other global system entirely – or not. Meanwhile, the only form of accountability the society offers for men who rape, batter, and abuse is the existing criminal justice system. While we are trying to create communities that have the power to hold men accountable, what do we do to save the lives and spirits and bodies of the vast numbers of women subjected to men’s violent behavior?

In the real world that we live in right now, the one where a woman is being raped every 60 seconds, the only response currently available is to report the rape or abuse to the police, and follow through with the system’s process: IF we are believed, IF we have evidence, IF we have the stomach to go through a prosecution, IF we can overcome the system’s bias against us, THEN our rapist or abuser (especially if he is low income or a man of color) MAY get sentenced. And then what? He will have a year or two or ten or twenty of ghastly, rage-producing abuse himself, followed by a lifetime of branding, exclusion, discrimination and vigilante “justice” known as sex offender registration.

More likely, we don’t go to the criminal justice system at all, especially if we are women of color, because we know we won’t be believed, we are afraid we will be re-victimized, we have no reason to trust cops or prosecutors, and/or we do not want our attacker to spend the rest of his life in prison. The criminal justice system is practically useless  as a resource for women survivors of violence.

I learned that in a Take Back the Night speakout at a state college in a rural area of New York. The auditorium was entirely dark, and the young women students were invited to testify about the sexual violence they had experienced. What happened next took my breath away. For hours, an apparently endless stream of young women, most of whom had never told anyone their story before, took the microphone and described a litany of pain, shame, and cruelty, beyond anything I had ever imagined. When it was over, I realized that not a single one had mentioned the criminal justice system.

Bear with me while I try to walk and chew gum at the same time. How about if we hold on to that outrage at a society which condones men’s extreme and massive violence against women, at the same time that we hold the outrage that 2.3 million people, mainly men of color, are locked in small cages for decades on end, abused, humiliated, and often broken, in a system where the ruling 1% holds the major  means of violence and uses it ruthlessly to maintain the existing relations of power and privilege.

So how do we act to change the system in ways that challenge its fundamental assumptions, rather than reinforce it? How do we know which is which?

Some starting points: Both the movement against mass incarceration and the movement against violence against women have to forefront the voices, experiences, and leadership of women of color, especially those who have experienced violence, incarceration, and/or the incarceration of loved ones. Presently those voices are often marginalized in both movements. The result is over-reliance on the criminal justice system by the anti-violence movement, and no provision for accountability by the anti-mass incarceration movement.  There are women of color organizations and writers who have been exploring these issues for decades. See, for example, Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America’s Prison Nation by Beth E. Richie. Also see the organization INCITE: Women of Color Against Violence.

We need to  both build communities of accountability outside the criminal justice system, and at the same time demand that it respect and listen to women, apply non-classist and non-racist justice, and base itself in protection, prevention, and accountability rather than punishment and revenge. What might that challenge look like on the ground?


What kinds of solutions do you envision?


In struggle,


  1. Darby Penney says:

    Naomi, thank you for writing the rebuttal to part 1 that I have been trying to piece together in my head since I read your original piece. As a tired old progressive activist (and as a survivor of rape at knife-point on the streets of Albany more than 25 years ago), I really do understand that the struggle against violence against women and against the violence of mass incarceration of men of color (and others) are linked. In fact, I think of all social justice activism as the struggle against violence in all the overt and covert forms it takes in our world. But while the solutions we envision for our great-great granddaughters can provide us with guiding vision, what do we do about the present? The same week I was raped, the man who raped me was identified from photo arrays as her rapist by a 70-year old grandmother and a 13-year old girl. A man who does that to three women in one week likely has done it before and since to many more. Should I not have reported the crime to the police because the man faced what I know are the horrors of prison? If so, how many other rapes would I have indirectly facilitated? I don’t know what the short-term answer is, but I don’t think it’s to allow serial rapists access to our sisters.

  2. Nadya Lawson says:

    Thanks for your initial post and your much needed rebuttal. I agree with almost everything you said, yet, when I got to the words “leadership of women of color,” I experienced a wave of fatigue so profound that it took me a minute to realize it wasn’t physical. Yes, I know what is critical about our voices, experiences and perspectives, what makes women of color leadership essential. But implicit in that message is that the responsibility for this work belongs to women of color. I want the starting point to be that we all need and deserve safety and the existing racist criminal justice system doesn’t provide it, so what does safety mean and to whom? these are whole community concerns requiring whole community solutions and responsibility. How we get men to take responsibility for the behavior of men, how we get white people to look at the complex system that racism built. Too often “leadership of women of color” means mule in the service of justice and I’m over it.

  3. Naomi Jaffe says:

    Thank you, Darby and Nadya, for taking the conversation two steps further. Darby, your comments are moving and courageous. No, the answer can’t be to let serial rapists loose to rape again. Nadya, I can see that calling on “the leadership of women of color” is too often a way to put onto women of color a disproportionate share of the responsibility that belongs to everyone. We are all impacted, and we all have responsibility to understand the systems of violence and work to change them. I should have said, instead, that there are women, predominantly but not exclusively women of color, who have been wrestling with this impossible dilemma for decades, like Beth Richie and INCITE, and there is much that our movements can learn from their thinking and practice.

  4. Carmen Rau says:

    Hi, all.
    Some of my favorite thinkers are on this thread.:) Thanks for all your comments.

    First, I think it’s fantastic that this discussion is happening. For far too long the struggles around ending violence against women and fighting for prisoner justice and against the massive growth of the prison-industrial complex have been largely separate conversations. The tension between the two has been underscored by the unsettling partnership between the violence against women movement and the criminal “justice” system over the past few decades. Something is clearly wrong with having our movement in bed with politicians and advocates on this issue who support and promote the current prison system as it stands. AND, something is clearly wrong with so many offenders being free to repeatedly rape women.

    I confess that while my first angry impulse is more closely aligned the castration guy in the other comment thread, I know that this is not a humane or useful response. Like Naomi, I think we should be capable of “walking and chewing gum at the same time.” We should be angry and outraged by the ongoing violence against women AND by the violence and injustice of the prison system. Holding onto both is key to seeking out a successful solution. It is also, I believe, a requirement for us to be able to maintain our humanity.

    One of the subjects we have not yet broached on this thread or any of our blog posts has been the culture that allows, encourages, and perpetuates violence against women. This, in my humble opinion, is the root cause of the problem and therein lies the beginning of the solution. Might this be the subject of another post?

    As a mother of three boys, I am terrified of being unable to counter all of the shit that they are bombarded with by the media, their peers, and the culture they are steeped in. Consequently, in the wake of the Steubenville case, I naturally gravitated toward the “mommy” articles.:) As a result I read several articles on the topic. Below are links to two of the many:

    and here:

    “Behavior like this doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s part and parcel of a larger cult of masculinity that feeds into rape culture. It happens in communities that praise male domination and patriarchal ideals. It happens in a community like Steubenville where rumors abound, and most people look the other way while whispers of inappropriate behavior between men in positions of authority and female high school students float through the halls.”

    All of this said, I think that the beginning of finding a solution to the linked struggles of violence against women and prison justice, is that we be willing to have this very, very difficult conversation in our own community. The only successful approach will be one that acknowledges the relationship and intersections of race, gender and class in our current system and draws on and gives power to the voices of those most affected.

    What’s next? Shall we gather?

  5. John Dewar Gleissner says:

    It is I, the fellow who suggested judicial corporal punishment, castration for rapists. My suggestion was based on historical and behavioral research showing it works. Among the quotes, let’s consider, “Fight fire with fire … Get serious … punish the unwanted behavior with unpleasant punishment … disable … fix … good, lasting solution …. The life of the law is not logic, but experience.” It works with animals; it would work with men.