Mainstream feminism too often puts ‘police violence’ and ‘male violence against women’ into different conceptual categories — if, indeed, it considers police violence to be a topic of feminist concern at all. This is especially the case for the violence that is ‘normalised’ as part of policing: arrests, most obviously, but also violations such as intimate searches, and harassment such as stop-and-frisk. The result is that police violence gets left out of mainstream feminist anti-violence work. However, when we think of police violence not only as state violence but also (often) as male violence against women, the criminalisation of prostitution comes into focus in a new way: as a key driver of male violence against women.

The infrastructure of criminalisation saturates our political consciousness. It is the bobby on the beat, the jail on the Monopoly board, the crime-drama TV show (with its inevitable murdered prostitute), the car-chase footage on the news. In this saturation, such images are rendered mundane, sidelining questions of the legitimacy or purpose of these modes of control. As Angela Davis writes, the prison ‘is one of the most important features of our image environment,’ yet it functions ideologically as an abstract site into which undesirables are deposited, relieving us of the responsibility of thinking about the real issues afflicting those communities from which prisoners are drawn in such disproportionate numbers. This is the ideological work that the prison performs — it relieves us of the responsibility of seriously engaging with the problems of our society, especially those produced by racism and, increasingly, global capitalism.

Theorist Beth Richie uses the term prison nation to mean a ‘broad notion of using the arm of the law to control people, especially disadvantaged people and people from disadvantaged communities.’ Her term encompasses not only the physical infrastructure of prisons and jails, but also ‘surveillance, policing, detention, probation, harsh restrictions on child guardianship… and other strategies of isolation and disposal.’

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Criminalizing Sex Workers drives rape and gender-based police violence by Juno Mac and Molly Smith

April 25th, 2019