Black Lives Matter gained a lot of traction during the summer following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. This led to an increase in conversations surrounding police abolition. One of the catchphrases right-wing police proponents latched on to is “without police what will we do about the rapists?” This rhetoric insinuates that abolitionists are in conflict with feminist discourse which advocates for sexual assault survivors and the justice they seek and deserve. This argument is often made in bad faith and is riddled with inaccuracies, so let’s unpack some of them.
Most rapists never end up in prison anyways
It is estimated that less than 1% of sexual assaults lead to an offender being convicted in the United States. By now most of us have probably heard that statistic but it is horrifyingly shocking nonetheless. In Canada this number is slightly higher, hovering at around 6.5% which is still dishearteningly low. The reality is, the vast majority of offenders go free. And the process of reporting a sexual assault is oftentimes extremely re-traumatizing for the victim.
A Global/Ipsos Reid poll showed that of those who reported a sexual assault, 71% had a negative experience. They are often not believed, blamed, or made to feel responsible for the violence they endured. Many times they are forced to relive the trauma. Simultaneously, they have to deal with insensitive and callous treatment only to have the police fail to take evidence or to have their cases dropped arbitrarily.
So, not only do perpetrators rarely face punishment in the current system but the process the victims are put through often causes more harm than good. It is also important to keep in mind that the likelihood of a perpetrator facing punishments in our so-called justice system decreases drastically when the victim is Black and/or Indigenous.
Police who commit sexual and domestic violence are much more common than we’d like to think
The issue of police brutality runs deep. During the summer, these issues gained attention and came to the forefront of news cycles worldwide. Despite being an issue that Black and Indigenous activists have been highlighting and fighting tirelessly to combat for generations, mainstream media only recently began to give it importance. This begs the terrifying question of: who do you call when your offender is a police officer?
In the Montréal and Halifax police departments, less than one percent of male officers who commit domestic violence may face a criminal charge. The RCMP disciplines Mounties more harshly if they steal or make a false statement than if they attack an intimate partner. A male Mountie who assaults his wife or girlfriend may have as little as a one-in-6,500 chance of ever facing a judge for his crime.
All this shows that the police seldom play a large role in helping survivors of sexual assault seek justice. Rarely are perpetrators actually held accountable for their horrific actions. We also cannot ignore the epidemic of violence within the Canadian police force itself. We know there is a culture of secrecy and covering up for officers who abuse their power.
Advocating for police abolition and fighting for justice for survivors of sexual violence are extremely intertwined
We must also continuously be mindful of how these racist, colonial institutions harm Black and Indigenous survivors in unique ways. Studies suggest that when women of color report violence, particularly rape, their experiences are often taken less seriously.”
Our punishment-based justice system was designed to uphold white supremacy. So, it will never be a system in which marginalized survivors can safely seek justice and pursue healing. Abolition aims to change the way we conceptualize justice. Contrary to what pro-police advocates may argue, supporters of abolition are not acting in contrast with the goals of modern-day feminism. These critics intentionally push the notion that these are opposing ideals.
Who benefits from this misconception? Not feminists and those for whom they advocate. Certainly not all of the people that seek healing through transformative justice ideals. So, who remains? Those who actively refuse to acknowledge, or simply don’t care about survivors of sexual violence. They also often don’t care about the numerous BIPOC communities that are unjustly targeted by law enforcement.
Defunding the police is a small step towards abolition. It is also a crucial step towards the broader movement of reimagining how we both conceive and achieve justice. Many of the activist movements in the spotlight today are profoundly interconnected. In order to push for these goals of specific and broad justice in our societies it is important to unpack misconceptions and bad faith arguments posed by those seeking to halt progress. Often, they are the ones who profit off the exploitation of others less privileged than themselves.