On Friday, February 27th, BCRW Research Assistants and Ejeris Dixon (Founding Director of Vision Change Win Consulting) will facilitate “Transformative Justice Approaches to Sexual Violence on Campus and Beyond”, a workshop at the 40th Annual Scholar & Feminist Conference on education. We (BCRW Research Assistants) have compiled a resources guide to concepts that will be explored at the workshop with the hopes of extending knowledge and continuing conversations around these very important issues.
Alternative vs. Restorative vs. Transformative
I have become familiar with the terms “transformative justice”, “restorative justice”, and “alternative justice” since the beginning of my time at Barnard, in the sense that these terms are buzzwords on the current student social justice scene. However, these terms are frequently used interchangeably, and until recently I did not have a deeper understanding of their differences. Generally, alternative justice refers to justice practices that take place outside of the criminal justice system, and restorative justice seeks to repair harm through accountability practices rather than punishment. Transformative justice takes restorative justice one step further by aiming to not only respond to individual acts of violence, but also to transform communities so that structures that enable and perpetuate violence are eradicated. Transformative justice envisions communities in which responses to violence are not solely reactionary but also preventative. It is also important to acknowledge that transformative justice draws upon generations of work carried out by women of color and queer activists.
Carceral Feminism and Transformative Justice
Feminist activists and organizers initially theorized a framework of transformative justice in response to the state’s inability to stop sexual violence. White feminists have traditionally turned to the state to combat sexual violence and abuse through legislation to reform the criminal justice system (e.g. rape shield laws) and to increase police power (e.g. the Violence Against Women Act). This approach to sexual violence, labeled “carceral feminism”, does not recognize or criticize the role of the state in enacting violence and enforcing oppression. For instance, women of color who have turned to the police to escape domestic violence have in turn been brutalized by the same police officers that were supposed to help them. Clearly, we must look beyond the possibility of state justice in order to create communities in which all forms of violence would be unthinkable.
generationFIVE, a non-profit organization that aims to end child sexual abuse, developed a set of principles for and a definition of transformative justice after examining the failures of state interventions via the criminal justice and child welfare systems to stop child sexual abuse. According to generationFIVE’s report, transformative justice recognizes that the criminal justice system is unable to address and stop rape and abuse, and that incarceration only reproduces violence and injustice. In other words, turning to mass incarceration to end sexual violence cannot be a feminist solution because it ignores the sexual violence that occurs within prisons and the way that mass incarceration operates as a tool of racial, class, and cisheteronormative oppression. Transformative justice seeks to change the conditions that allow violence to occur and operates outside of the state-carceral-legal system. In addition to supporting survivors and holding abusers accountable, transformative justice calls for a community-wide response to violence and community accountability.
Connections to the University
Recently, the more visible dialogue around sexual violence on campus has brought up questions about how the university responds to harm. Activists have been drawing attention to this very question through actions such as collective carries that started on Columbia/Barnard’s campus, but have since spread to campuses across the nation. These activists are also trying to situate discussions around sexual violence in a larger framework of transformative justice and are leading workshops doing so.
The university operates outside of the criminal justice system and actually operates inside a system of civil rights violations; what this means is that under Title IX, universities are obligated to investigate and prevent sexual violence as a potential civil rights violation, not as a criminal matter. This is why the standard of proof in university disciplinary hearings is much lower than in a criminal court. Although the Office of Civil Rights has very clearly and carefully laid out Title IX guidelines, universities seem to be incapable of following them. In Columbia’s instance, their 2012 gender-based misconduct policy was updated in response to the 2011 “Dear Colleague Letter”, and this policy has been overhauled since the past spring. Additionally, universities are assumed to have a conflict of interest when adjudicating claims of sexual violence because of its public image as an institution; however, legal scholars have written about the fact that universities face more potential liability by not following Title IX.
Although the university functions within a framework of civil rights violations rather than criminal charges, student activists have explored transformative justice practices as an alternative to internal university reporting and disciplinary processes. While university administrations should be able to provide their students with justice in the wake of sexual assault allegations, recent events at Columbia have shown that turning to university administration will not necessarily be effective. Could transformative justice practices be adopted within the community of the university campus, and would they be more effective than the current model? Would the administration be included? And what would it mean for those who are not university students? These are the questions and possibilities that will be explored during the transformative justice workshop.
List of Resources:
Organizations committed to a transformative justice model:
- INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence | Blog | INCITE! Toolkit | The Revolution Starts at Home
- Philly Stands Up
- Sylvia Rivera Law Project | “Prisons As A Tool For Reproductive Oppression: Cross-Movement Strategies For Gender Justice”
- generationFIVE | “Toward Transformative Justice: A Liberatory Approach to Child Sexual Abuse and other forms of Intimate and Community Violence”
Resources that discuss the concept of community accountability, a practice that relies on the cooperation of community members to address violence rather than the police/prison system:
- What are Community Accountability & Transformative Justice?
- US Prison Culture Blog
- Creative Interventions Toolkit
Resources that further theorize and contextualize transformative justice practices, such as in the areas of sexual violence, white supremacist violence, prison/state/police violence, violence against trans people in prisons:
- “Transformative Justice Strategies for Addressing Police/Vigilante/Hate/White Supremacist Violence” by Andrea Smith
- Angela Davis at Left Forum 2014: “Imagining a World with Transformative Justice: Reform and/or Revolution Today” [VIDEO]
- No One is Disposable at BCRW [VIDEOS]
- “Building an Abolitionist Trans and Queer Movement With Everything We’ve Got” by Morgan Bassichis, Alexander Lee, and Dean Spade in Captive Genders
Resources about Title IX:
- Know Your IX
- Informal Resolution Options at University of Michigan
- “Campus Sexual Misconduct: Restorative Justice Approaches to Enhance Compliance With Title IX Guidance” by Mary P. Koss, Jay K. Wilgus, Kaaren M. Williamsen
- Columbia University Gender-Based Misconduct Policy
Sarah DeYoung is a BCRW Research Assistant and a senior majoring in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and minoring in Political Science.