Calls for state-based, punitive responses to gendered violence are a prominent part of mainstream feminist discourse in many countries. Laws lengthening mandatory minimum sentences, imposing strict conditions on bail and probation, and the creation of aggressive controls on sex-offenders are policies demanded as the only means to seriously address the prevalence of violence towards women.
As mass incarceration and the broader criminal justice system come under increasing criticism and protest, such calls have been categorised and critiqued as carceral feminism. Marxists agree with its critics that its central claim – that punishment for sex and gendered crimes will reduce harm towards women – has provided legitimacy for the expansion of the carceral state. Where harsh punishment of offenders has been implemented, it has produced growth in prison populations and disproportionate impact on the poor and oppressed. Carceral feminists have been accused of abandoning a broader social justice vision for addressing sexism and ignoring the racialised nature of the prison system.
Why do calls for aggressive punishment of sex crimes and domestic violence gain traction? Whose interests do they serve? And what is the alternative to the carceral lens for understanding the roots of rape and sexual assault?
This session will examine ample evidence against a punitive approach, critique the political logic behind carceral feminism, and offer an alternative focus for activists interested in combatting sexism and taking on the capitalist state. Genuine justice and human liberation involves fighting and ultimately smashing the capitalist state.