The Partnership’s Support for VAWA 2021 & Restorative Practices
November 18, 2021
The Violence Against Women Act’s pending reauthorization and inclusion of restorative practices has sparked some rich discussion. This discussion brings us back to the question that Dr. Beth Richie posed to us all during the Shifting the Lens keynote on November 1st: “How is violence in the public sphere interacting with systems in the intimate sphere?” Specific to this topic, we believe it is worth reflecting on her response: “Carceral feminism has fed a critical site of danger for Black survivors.” Bias in the criminal legal system is undeniable: Black women are 4.5 times more likely to be incarcerated compared to white women. The majority of those in women’s prisons have experienced physical and sexual abuse. As the National Black Women’s Justice Institute emphasizes, we must decriminalize survival.
There is more that must still be done to close existing gaps and better ensure safe and equitable services for ALL survivors. The language to allow support and funding for restorative practices is just a small step towards equity in services and resources for all survivors and diminish racism and other discrimination in the field.
As a statewide coalition whose mission it is to end domestic violence, we ask, has the criminal legal system helped or hindered safe access to effective and equitable services for ALL survivors, their families and communities? We are asking what do survivors and their communities, historically marginalized and oppressed by the criminal legal system, need for safety, healing and freedom from all forms of patriarchal violence? The Partnership works to intentionally center the needs of ALL survivors. Thanks to the voices of diverse survivors the gender-based violence field has grown and evolved in its understanding of domestic violence and the need for diverse and inclusive approaches, strategies and resources. We know that one-stop shops and cookie cutter services and resources do not work for everyone. We are building a domestic violence movement in California that works for everyone.
The inclusion of this very modest language, allowing but not requiring restorative practices, is grounded in the leadership of our national culturally specific resource centers, including Ujima, the national resource center on DV in the Black community. We look to their leadership as to what is needed for Black, Indigenous and communities of color, and their recommendations for how to best improve VAWA to meet those needs. These concepts are not new, and the restorative language in the House bill builds on work already happening at the Department of Justice, including the Office for Victims of Crime, the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Office of Justice Programs-funded National Center for Restorative Justice. A body of research will take time to build, but that work is beginning. This piece in The Hill from our partners on the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence has additional helpful context about the restorative practices, as well as the other important components of the bill.
As many of you know, the concept of utilizing restorative practices in domestic violence cases is one that we’ve been raising since our very first Shifting the Lens conference in 2016, when we heard from leaders in the field such as Mimi Kim, Sujatha Baliga and Dr. Beth Richie. We’ve seen tremendous interest from the field for this new approach, and recognition that our current system does not serve all survivors well, especially Black, Indigenous & Native, and survivors of color.
Incorporating restorative practices is an important step to ensure that survivors have choices about how to secure safety, healing and accountability from the person who harmed them, without limiting their options to only a carceral approach. As many restorative and transformative justice practitioners have stated, these approaches are about deepening the responsibility taken by the person causing harm–as well as involving close-knit community members who can actually have an impact on long-term accountability, survivor safety and community healing. Restorative justice recognizes that many survivors will never reach out to the criminal system for safety, and that for many who do, the system is re-traumatizing and does not provide needed support. In a 2015 report from the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 2 in 3 women who contacted the police were somewhat or extremely afraid to call the police in future. 1 in 4 women who had called the police said they would not call them in the future, and 1 in 4 women (24%) reported they had been arrested or threatened with arrest during a partner abuse incident or while reporting a sexual assault incident to the police. The report recognizes what we have heard so often from advocates in our field about the ways the carceral-focused status quo is harmful for survivors, rather than helpful.
This VAWA bill is not decriminalizing domestic and sexual violence, and to say so is simply false. In the specific case of recognizing tribal sovereignty, VAWA 2021 actually expands the criminal jurisdiction for tribes to hold non-tribal members accountable for sexual assault committed on tribal lands. This expansion was advocated by tribes as essential for tribal sovereignty. VAWA is also not defunding the criminal system. The STOP formula grants which come to every state and territory will continue to be allocated by the same formula to services, prosecutors, law enforcement, and courts. Even the grant program with the modest inclusion of allowing for restorative practices still includes a focus on criminal systems responses and courts and local governments remain eligible for these funds.
Removing this language from VAWA would maintain an unacceptable status quo and ignore and silence the voices and needs of Black, Indigenous and people of color. In a country that values freedom and choice we can, and must, hold space for multiple approaches and allow survivors to choose their own path to safety and healing.
If you have any questions about or concerns about the Partnership’s position on Restorative Justice you can reach our Executive Director, Dr. Aleese Orbih at Aleese@cpedv.org. If you have questions on our stance on the VAWA reauthorization bill, you can contact our Public Policy Director, Krista Colón, at firstname.lastname@example.org.