They Survive Violence, Then Get Criminalized By Their Own Defense

person holding a briefcase
Zain Murdock
August 24, 2023

When survivors of sexual and domestic violence encounter the criminal legal system, even more violence awaits. But it isn’t just police, prosecutors, and prison staff. It’s also the people who are supposed to be on their side: defense attorneys.

It often starts with attorney mindsets. When the defense believes their clients are promiscuous for being assaulted, unintelligent for remaining in abusive relationships, or calculating for escaping abuse with self-defense, they won’t offer strong arguments in court.

How can you advocate for someone you’re criminalizing yourself?

Many attorneys push survivors into plea deals because they don’t believe in them. Others spend hours doubting, sexualizing, and shaming them for their choices, even subjecting survivors to additional verbal and emotional abuse.

Some don’t even meet with their clients before trial.

When survivors of domestic and sexual violence are consistently criminalized and harmed by those responsible for defending them, that exposes  the criminal legal system’s true colors. It doesn’t provide justice or create safety, especially for Black survivors. So, what can?

Some pathways, like restorative justice programs, already exist. And, we can always imagine new ways to center the needs of survivors instead of criminalizing them. 

With our collective brainpower, we can build a future where sexual and domestic violence is not only effectively interrupted and prevented, but is no longer a part of our social norms.

We have a quick favor to ask:

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