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.

In June of 2018, after tortuous weeks of hinting, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed Matter of A-R-C-G, a 2014 case recognizing some types of domestic violence claims as a valid basis for asylum in the U.S. Utilizing a rarely employed mechanism, the AG certified a case, Matter of A-B-, to himself in order to instruct Immigration Judges under his authority to cease  considering domestic violence claims legally sufficient for asylum. The case, technically a Memo from the Attorney General to Immigration Judges, appears at first blush to merely reverse A-R-C-G-, but Sessions went much further. The decision is racist, misogynistic, and dehumanizing. It bears all the ugly hallmarks of the world’s rising nativist leaders.

The #MeToo movement has revealed a lot about American society: although the crime rates have generally decreased over the past 30 years, intimate and sexual violence continue to plague the U.S. Some men still clearly feel entitled to treat women as property, their bodies a vehicle for men’s power and pleasure. For me, the most striking thing about the outpouring of #MeToo stories is that these stories represent thousands and thousands of people who did not pursue legal remedies—people who did not come forward with their experiences of physical and sexual harassment and abuse until a social movement made taking some kind of action seem possible. Despite 40 years of law reform, law has neither changed the cultural acceptability of sexual and intimate partner violence nor deterred that violence in any meaningful way.  Many people still don’t see the legal system as a viable option for addressing violence.  The rise of #MeToo is about the failure of the law.

A judge ordering a shaming sentence for a perpetrator of intimate partner violence (IPV) may seem rational. Perpetrators commonly belittle, humiliate, and disgrace their partners within a larger pattern of physical abuse, and survivors often report feeling an abiding sense of shame as a result. Thus, humiliating a perpetrator may seem particularly apropos. Judicially imposed shaming sentences also appear to serve the criminal system’s retributive goals, sending a clear public message of intolerance for abusive behavior. These sentences may further be meant to rehabilitate, assuming that moral education flows from public humiliation. But even if these stigmatizing sentences have some legitimate purpose, any benefit is outweighed by the fact that they undermine the goals of violence reduction and survivor safety. Shaming perpetrators makes their victims more vulnerable, not less.

The #MeToo movement has been crucial in raising the profile of sexual harassment and violence through the voices of women from Hollywood to Congress, yet we have heard less about the experiences of women from other socioeconomic sectors – poor women, women of color, immigrant women. The U.S. does have limited policies in place to protect some immigrant victims of sexual violence, but those systems need to be more accessible ­and to be made consistent across jurisdictions.

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.