by Elizabeth S. Q. Goodman, third-year graduate student in Mathematics
This piece originally appeared on Elizabeth’s personal blog, nonviolentrage.
Warning: this article discusses incarceration and sexual assault.
Please, if you can, vote NO on proposition 35, the CASE Act. The California Coalition for Women Prisoners has a very informative short page about why. Basically, all it does is increase punishments for things that are already illegal, and massively broaden the definition of who can be jailed for anything related to sex work, as well as the definition of who must register as a life-long sex offender.
The problem is broader than the specifics of this bill. It’s not just that not all sex workers are victims. It’s not just that many of the people who do business with sex workers are landlords, roommates, and many other people–all defined as “pimps”, all to be criminalized under Prop 35. It’s not just that the threat of law means that people who could potentially help get the most serious victims out of the system–clients, other sex workers, people who run the system–will be less likely to do so.
It’s that even if “sex worker” brings “victim of sexual assault and other violence” to your mind, anyone who’s done any research knows that survivors of sexual assault rarely report. They rarely push charges, because they know the justice system is unlikely to help them; and even when they do, the process is hell. Those who report, who have evidence and press charges, are probably sacrificing their own dignity in order to prevent the attacker from preying on others. I think we all know that what survivors of sexual assault need is mostly emotional and financial support to get out of their situations and recover; not condescension, not the scorn of a slut-shaming society, and not necessarily long drawn-out trials. I’m not saying the justice system is never useful, but we know it’s not the top priority in these cases. So why, when society talks about “helping the victims of sex trafficking”, do policemen and judges suddenly look like a good option? Why should we vote to expand the prison system?
There are at least 2 other propositions this election that could affect the prison system: proposition 36, which makes the “3 strikes rule” slightly less horrible, so I’m for it. Proposition 34 is supposed to be a no-brainer, because it “ends the death penalty”, but it replaces it with dying in prison after a life without parole. And the money it saves is the money that would be spent letting prisoners on Death Row have their case reviewed; instead of the chance to go free, they just have a longer death.
When people make Americans feel afraid of the consequences of reducing our prison system, we must always ask, where is the commitment to finding nonviolent solutions? Arrests, jails and prisons are violent, and the trauma they cause spreads far beyond the inmates. Why do many of us associate them with safety? Why are they the first option?
Perhaps the best illustration of the California prison system is in two recent reforms.
Last month, Governor brown signed a bill that will prohibit chaining up prisoners who are giving birth.
Again, that’s the good news. Let’s not make this grim picture worse.
Elizabeth is in the middle of seeking a PhD in mathematics. She is also interested in queer rights and social justice, music, Irish dancing, climbing trees and any number of things.