A couple of days ago, Amanda Marcotte wrote a piece at Slate praising prosecutors in Cowlitz County, Washington for arrested a rape victim who failed to cooperate in the case against the perpetrator, who was also her ex-boyfriend. The kindest thing I can say about this piece is that it’s puzzling, unless it was specifically meant as clickbait (which is why I’m using DoNotLink on this one, as many others have done.) Prosecutors issued a material witness warrant against the woman, and she had to spend a night in jail before the trial - which, as local news reported, “had the added irony of using a warrant to hold the woman against her will so she can help convict someone else of holding her against her will.”
Marcotte argues that when we have to make a zero-sum decision between the well-being of a rape victim versus the interest of prosecutors who just want to keep a rapist off the streets, sometimes we must choose the latter at the expense of the former. In general, the idea of jailing rape survivors - revictimizing the victim - is deeply unsettling, and there have been a lot of good responses that do better than I can with this that I encourage you to read. I would also like to note how fucked up it is that she also argues that because this woman was homeless, jailing her for a night was a good thing - because having a hot and a cot beats having no place to stay even if it’s behind bars and you’re compelled to be there, right? Never mind that there’s been a troubling resurrection of criminalizing homelessness lately.
But I find Marcotte’s piece to also be incredibly troubling in its blithe cheerleading of essentially using state violence as a remedy to interpersonal violence. Holding someone against her will - especially if she is not “endangering society” directly (and I do not believe she was, as I do not believe it is her responsibility to ensure her ex-boyfriend doesn’t harm anyone else) - is a form of violence exerted by the state. As I’ve said before, I do not believe it should be the role of the state to enact violence against its citizens. It made me think back to Lauren Chief Elk’s great piece on why celebrating V-Day is so problematic for women of color:
Women of color continue to discuss the ways in which state violence is significant and is used to break up our communities to further harm us. That structure is violence; it is historically predicated on rounding up and locking away Indigenous and Black people. The existing system is not a place we are able to turn to for help. When mainstream white feminism is continually calling for more laws, punishments, for strengthened ties with law enforcement, and expanded police jurisdiction, they are enabling the violence against us. There is no “we,” because this approach is at the expense of us. Women of color become collateral damage in the continued quest to uphold and protect white womanhood.
Now I suppose I should say that I have no idea if the woman prosecutors arrested to force her cooperation is a woman of color. But she is definitely a woman from a marginalized part of society if she is homeless - a part of society that often has troubled interactions with the police. And I’m uneasy with the fact that honestly, were I in her situation, I think people would be outraged if I were arrested and compelled to comply with prosecutors - because I am an educated white woman in a white collar job.
Mikki Kendall had a lot of thoughtful discussion on this point over at her Twitter feed (@Karnythia) and retweed a lot of reactions that address what a problem it is to advocate for using state violence as a response to domestic violence. As Melissa McEwan points out, given the epic failure on a law enforcement level to respond to survivors who do want to cooperate with police, this arrest is even more outrageous:
Third: It’s contemptible that, across the nation, police departments systematically refuse to cooperate with victims, but now a victim is held by police for refusing to cooperate with them. So lots of people ostensibly tasked with protecting the community from predators and abusers routinely fail survivors with virtual impunity, but one survivor declines to assist them, and a warrant is issued for her to force her to engage. That’s rich.
And this is ultimately counterproductive, to put it lightly:
Finally: The primary defense for holding this woman and compelling her to testify is that if she doesn’t participate and her abuser walks, he’ll harm more women. But if we’re really concerned about preventing future assaults, then we have to foremostly make it safe for multiple survivors to report—and publicly revictimizing one survivor in this way stands to discourage multiple victims from reporting. That is bigger than even this one rapist.
Given the general indifference to rape survivors within the criminal justice system, there’s really no excuse for perpetrating more violence upon this woman. It only serves to make the system even more harmful - for all survivors.