At the Intersections of Race, Gender, and Mass Incarceration
Over the past couple of years, sexual violence in America has received much more attention as the issue of sexual assault on college campuses has exploded into the mainstream consciousness. As the public, students, and higher education institutions continue to grapple with this epidemic, the Human Rights Project for Girls reminds us with their recently released study, The Sexual Abuse To Prison Pipeline: The Girls’ Story, that sexual violence does not impact only college age youth. It impacts young girls, particularly young girls of color (primarily African-Americans, Latinas, and Native Americans) as well as youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) or gender non-conforming (GNC). Young girls of color and LGBT/GNC girls are at a particularly high risk because the justice system punishes youth of color and youth who do not conform to gender norms much more harshly than their white heterosexual counterparts.
What does sexual abuse have to do with incarceration?
Experiencing sexual abuse puts girls at enormous risk for arrest and incarceration. When girls are arrested, it is rarely because they have committed a violent crime. More often than not, they are arrested because they have become truant, run away, or engage in substance abuse (which are called status offenses for youth under 18). Why did they stop going to school or run away from home? The answer, in many cases, is that girls are running away from abusive situations. They are then arrested and locked up for running away. This is the cycle that is the sexual abuse-to-prison pipeline. At the root of this cycle is sexual violence. The reactions girls have to this violence — which they are punished for — are merely coping behaviors.
Wait, so…they are victims of sexual abuse, and they run away to escape the abuse, but running away is a crime, so they get arrested?
Little tots with their eyes all aglow will find it hard to sleep this holiday season. Kids all over the place are up in arms over some gender injustice in Toyland.
Earlier this month, McKenna Pope, a 13-year-old from New Jersey, started a petition on Change.org. Her goal? For toy company Hasbro to make her 4-year-old brother’s culinary dreams come true and lighten up a little on their gender-specific marketing of the Easy Bake Oven. In her petition, Pope writes: “I have always been adamantly against anything that promotes specific roles in society for men and women, and having grown up with toys produced by the Hasbro Corporation, it truly saddens me that such a successful business would resort to conforming to society’s views on what boys do and what girls do.”
Your silhouette does not perfectly fill in the lines of the body on the billboard. So what? Your silhouette is real, you are beautiful. Your smile is unique from that of the Orbit commercial. Your smile radiates character, you are beautiful. Your hair is unlike any other’s — your hair furthers self-expression, you are beautiful. Your skin tone lies on a spectrum of warm colors. Your skin radiates, you are beautiful.
It’s Love Your Body Day and the OCRCC invites you to celebrate with us. Loving oneself is a radical practice in a world that teaches us to despise, resent, and harm our bodies.
Why should we take some time out to love our bodies? Love for one’s body translates into respect for your body. Respect enables you to be conscious of your needs, wants, and desires. With this level of self-consciousness, what you want in your relationships reflects a true understanding of self. Confidence and love for your body opens the way for honest communication with sexual and romantic partners. Setting and understanding boundaries, maintaining each partner’s individualism, and reciprocal respect transpire from confidently communicating yourself to your partner. So embrace your body and all that it encompasses.