Carceral feminists have the wrong idea

Illustration by Jaida Noble | This image shows how the feminist community is split over the issue of carceral feminism.

Sending those who commit sexual assaults and sexual harassment to jail isn’t helping.

Since the 1980s, the number of people that are in prison has skyrocketed. According to The Sentencing Project, the number of people incarcerated for drug offenses rose from 40,900 in 1980 to 430,926 in 2019. 

While this may seem like progress in catching and punishing criminals, the reality is that crime rates have declined substantially since the 1990s, according to Pew Research Center. 

Pew Research Center found that even though crime rates have dropped, people still believe that  crime rates are rising and the number of people that report believing that is increasing every year.

Frankly, we know the prisons aren’t working and we know that crime rates have dropped so why are some people still pushing for increased prison times and sending more people to prison?

Some groups of people still seem to hold onto the belief that prison works, despite the evidence against this. 

One of these groups is carceral feminists. 

Carceral feminism is a type of feminism that pushes for increased prison sentences for crimes that are focused on gender issues, on the idea that more punishment will decrease the number of sexual assaults, harassment and other sexual crimes. 

This is all great in theory, however, it doesn’t work as demonstrated above.

Though some may say that the rate of rape crimes are up, these numbers are based on self-reports. 

Kristen Houser, a spokesperson for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center told Jamiles Lartey and Weihua Li from The Marshall Project that one of the possible reasons for the increase in sexual crimes could be that victims of rape are more able to understand that what they experienced was a crime. 

Carceral feminism doesn’t address the deeper issues with sex-based violence. Instead, it focuses on the surface level and insists that these crimes are the fault of the perpetrator. 

And while I don’t deny that the perpetrator is somewhat at fault, the more pressing issue is the continued objectification of women’s bodies which justifies  sexual crimes in the mind of the perpetrator. 

There are many things that need to be resolved for the issue of sexual assault and harassment to be resolved or even just reduced. 

For one, we must focus on the factors in our society that encourage and normalize men looking at women as sexual objects and things that they must ‘conquer’. We see media that enforces these norms all the time.

For example, look at any photoshoot that had a man and a woman in it. Chances are high that the man is posed in a way that is seemingly dominating the woman. The woman might have her neck showing, a common sign of submission, or she might be positioned lower than the man, another common sign of submission.

These signs are incredibly common and honestly, if it were not for a class that taught me how to find them and what they meant, I would think nothing of it. But it creeps into your brain without you knowing it. I’ve caught myself thinking things that perpetuate these norms.

This leads me to my second point, we must educate our society to recognize our own pitfalls and those in the world around us.

Only by doing this can we actually start to make a change in the way that women are treated. 

We are making progress though. 

An Ohio former college football player who raped two women was let off on probation because these women asked for him to be put on probation if he pleaded guilty, which he did.

Jonathan Edwards of the Washington Post reported that the prosecutor said that the two victims said they hope that the rapist can become a productive member of society with counseling and supervision. 

I admire these women’s bravery and ability to forgive and I don’t blame those who call for more jail time. However, this issue is simply not being solved with more jail time.

We must focus on educating to solve the epidemic of sexual harassments and assaults in this country.

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