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Prevention Does Not Equal Policing

June 2, 2010

Preventing and ending sexual violence is not about increasing safety. Safety, in terms of action steps, usually includes risk reduction (self-policing) and/or increased police involvement (societal policing). It is not that easy.

First, risk reduction as a panacea is merely preemptive victim blaming. It is born out of our rape culture (See this post from Melissa McEwan for more). It says, “If you follow steps a, b, c, d, e, f, … z raised to the 1,000,000th power, you should be fine. Pay no attention to the contradictions within the rules!” It is disempowering to everyone. Those of us categorized into the victim circle of the Venn Diagram are unable to follow all of the safety rules by design and are left to live in fear of attack and be blamed if an attack occurs. Those categorized into the attacker circle are denied their own empathy and humanity and seen as irrational, hormonal beings unable to control their animal drives and looking for instant gratification. What this means is that if you don’t have control over an attack, you must control your behavior. If do have control over an attack, you can’t control your behavior. Everyone loses. Self-policing as prevention does not work.

Second is increasing police involvement, which is a trickier subject for me to navigate, but I am going to stumble through this.

I started writing this post because of this article (I was going to write a totally different post, but this is the one that came out). The police force is part of the rape culture (as we all are). How can they be counted on as a safety/prevention strategy when they are enmeshed in the problem? The police are agents of the kyriarchy and not of the people. As a middle-class, white, cisgendered, passing woman with a cop for an uncle, I’ve been raised to seek out the authorities. As a gay woman, I learned to fear them. As someone working to prevent sexual violence in a racially mixed community, I do not count them as an asset because of their historic bigotry in how they do their jobs.

Yet, I don’t want to discount them. I think they could be assets if and when their racism is acknowledged followed by work to change. But even then they are not agents of prevention. What would a preventative police force beholden to community members look like? How would their job descriptions be different?

My first thought is that they wouldn’t have guns. Power would not equal force, and so those forceful displays of power would be gone. They would be community members, definitely. After that, I don’t know. What I can imagine are regular community meetings with the local police force. Moving accountability back into the neighborhood. A conversation where both sides discuss their concerns/grievances/issues/successes. Through these discussions, the police can become part of the goal of preventing and ending sexual violence and making the neighborhood a safe place for everyone to live.

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