The problem of police brutality in the U.S. has largely and rightfully highlighted police killings of unarmed Black men. Still, when police violence against women can be connected to women’s personal experiences with intimate partner violence and sexual violence, researchers helping craft policy must work toward a comprehensive understanding of both men’s and women’s experiences with law enforcement. Police brutality is not a new phenomenon. Researchers, scholars, and activists such as Andrea Ritchie, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and Hillary Potter and grassroots movements like #SayHerName and INCITE! have long described and documented the problem of police brutality – specifically, police brutality against women and trans women of color. The #SayHerName brief documents cases in which women call police to report intimate partner or sexual violence, only to be met with inadequate, harmful, and abusive law enforcement responses. INCITE! has explained how police violence and intimate partner violence intersect in the lives of women of color, including women of color who are trans, bisexual or lesbian, immigrant, undocumented, living on tribal land, have prior criminal convictions, or are involved in sex work.
As Minnesota prepared to host the Super Bowl, increased attention was given to the issue of sex trafficking. In a Civios podcast, Lauren Martin, director of research at the Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC) and affiliate faculty member of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, addressed the way that Minnesota state policy and research impacts federal policy related to sex trafficking and commercial sex.
It is easy to overlook the presence of women in our prison system. After all, in Minnesota, women account for just over 7% of the prison population, a mere 737 individuals. And the same is true across the country, with women comprising just 7% of the estimated 1.53 million people held in state and federal correctional facilities. Given these small numbers, the path to reducing mass incarceration is generally framed through its impacts on men. Fewer researchers work on questions such as whether the reasons women are imprisoned are unique, whether their rehabilitative needs are different, or whether the experience of prison impacts their outcomes differently than it does men.
On a daily basis Black girls experience the world differently than their peers. Data show that from the schoolyard to the classroom, to the streets and into the juvenile justice system, adults treat Black girls differently than their white peers. Black girls are vulnerable not only to stereotypes, biases, and perceptions based on their race, but as importantly, based on their gender. Recognizing the significant impact that adult perceptions can have on children, researchers at the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality set out to examine for the first time whether adults view Black girls as possessing qualities that render them more like adults—and less innocent—than their white peers.
The National LGBT Bar Association put forth a resolution in 2013, urging federal, state and local governments to outlaw the “gay panic” and “trans panic” defense strategies, which attempt to reduce sentencing for a person accused of killing an LGBT person. These strategies are used by defense attorneys to argue that their clients’ crimes were not pre-meditated but a reaction to an unwanted sexual advance from an LGBT person or to the “discovery” of a person’s trans status, thus they warrant lighter sentencing. Such tactics have been in play as mitigating factors in sentencing since the 1960s. Today, California is the first state to have banned them; the National LGBT Bar Association is hopeful that other jurisdictions will follow in its footsteps. On May 31, 2017, the Illinois House of Representatives approved a Senate bill banning the defense. The bill is expected to be signed into law by Governor Bruce Rauner. A similar bill was introduced in the District of Columbia in February 2017.
A new wave of “tough on crime” policy is taking shape in the U.S., driven by a presidential administration that tirelessly stirs fears of internal and external threats. The full consequences of this new crackdown will not be known for some time. But decades of research on the effects of aggressive law enforcement provide a strong basis for understanding the challenges that lie ahead. In political rhetoric, the law-breaking individual takes center stage. Calls for stiffer penalties focus on actions within the criminal justice system. In reality, however, the fallout from get-tough law enforcement spirals outward, reaching into all corners of targeted individuals’ lives and creating devastating collateral consequences for the people who surround them. In the case of undocumented immigrant victims of gender-based violence, aggressive law enforcement can counteract vital protections and supports.
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Center on Women, Gender, and Public Policy
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