Editorial:Domestic violence, institutional violence: Making The Connections

Isolation, intimidation, humiliation, coercion,
blame, emotional abuse sound familiar? These
are some of the common methods used by abusers to
maintain control over the women they batter. Many
of these same techniques are used by prison staff
on a regular basis to maintain control of the
women they “guard”. When a woman is told that if
she behaves herself she can get more hygiene
products or a better job, when she has to endure
a cross-gender pat search, when she suffers a
barrage of degrading words on a daily basis, when
she is denied medical care because an MTA doesn’t
like her or when she is repeatedly put in the SHU
because she is not cooperative and docile ?she is
experiencing the same types of abuse that
survivors of domestic violence report. Studies
show that the majority of women prisoners have
experienced ongoing abuse before coming to
prison, so they are particularly vulnerable to
manipulation by such techniques which have
victimized them before.
Yet despite the prisons’ efforts to keep women
submissive and self-hating, many women transform
their experience of personal and institutional
violence and make the leap from victims into
conscious fighters for their rights.
Incarcerated survivors who come together and
share their experiences and their pain in groups
like Convicted Women Against Abuse at CIW, have
gained personal insight and the strength to fight
unjust sentences and win their long overdue
release. Other women have exposed the ways in
which Parole Board hearings are often nothing
more then sadistic reenactments of the original
offense primarily designed to inflame a woman’s
guilt. And every day when women help each other
write letters, file a 602 or just sit and listen
to another’s problems, they are helping to break
the cycle which breeds personal and institutional
Over the past couple of decades, the public has
become more familiar with the reality of domestic
violence, but too often people see the government
and law enforcement as the answer to this
pervasive problem. But can a government/state
which is based on violence, which wages continual
war against other nations, and here at home
imposes the violence of poverty, miseducation and
policy brutality on communities of color — can
this government be expected to genuinely oppose
domestic violence?
Women of color have led the way in insisting that
to achieve real change the women’s anti-violence
movement needs to understand the intersections of
domestic, state and community violence, and the
ways in which these different levels feed each
other. To us in CCWP, this means supporting
concrete strategies like the extension of the
habeas bill, SB 1385, which would offer more
survivors of domestic abuse the ability to go
back into court and win release (see page 5). At
the same time, it means we need to develop a long
term, holistic vision for eradicating the roots
of abuse and violence – in the prisons, in the
streets of our communities, and across the world.
* * *
The Surgeon General has reported for at least 10
years that battering is the single largest cause
of injury to U.S. women.
Each day between 5 and 11 women are killed by a
male intimate partner, between 1800 and 4000 per
A 1995 study of women in the California prison
system found that 71% of incarcerated women had
experienced ongoing physical abuse prior to the
age of 18 and that 62% experienced ongoing
physical abuse after 18 years of age.
As of 1994 there were approximately 600 women in
California prisons and approximately 4000 women
in prisons nationwide convicted of killing an
abusive partner.
[Most of these facts were compiled by the
National Clearinghouse in Defense of Battered
Women, Philadelphia, Pa.]
Statistics on verbal, psychological, and
emotional abuse are not collected, or when they
are mentioned, it’s only to point out how few of
those kinds of abuses are ever reported.