Photo depicting a woman with her head in her arm and one hand out with red text written on the palm that says, "STOP."

OPINION | This Women’s History Month Let’s Stop the Abuse-to-Prison Pipeline

by Ruba Ayub

March is Women’s History Month, a time to reflect on and unlearn our patriarchal and misogynist beliefs. It is also a time to take action to dismantle systems and ideas that perpetuate harm and violence against women, particularly Black and Brown women.

As a Woman of Color, I am specifically advocating for our needs because we have not only been marginalized by racist white supremacist systems but we also experience gender violence at a significantly higher rate than white women. The YWCA reports that Black and Brown women experience higher rates of sexual, physical, psychological, and financial abuse and violence from intimate partners and family members but often do not report abuse to government services or the criminal justice system due to a lack of trust in these systems and fear of revictimization.

Throughout history, Black and Brown women have been disproportionately targeted by the criminal justice system in the United States. Instead of receiving the necessary support services to help them recover from instances of domestic and sexual violence, many Black and Brown survivors are arrested and incarcerated. This pattern is known as the “abuse-to-prison pipeline” and operates in a similar way to the “school-to-prison pipeline,” which disproportionately impacts Black and Brown people and directs them toward incarceration rather than addressing the underlying material conditions such as poverty and generational traumas that led to their behavior.

Moreover, survivors of violence, predominantly women, queer, and trans people, are criminalized, arrested, and often incarcerated for defending themselves or attempting to escape their abusive situations. Instead of receiving support services to help them survive, heal from trauma and PTSD, and meet their needs, survivors are met with revictimization through the justice system.

The United States does not care about the needs and well-being of Women of Color. We need community-centered programs that can offer support services rooted in transformative justice that meet our needs and heal our pain rather than penalizing or incarcerating us. It is crucial that we address the systemic factors that contribute to these patterns and prioritize providing support and resources to survivors of domestic and sexual violence, particularly those who are most vulnerable to being targeted by the criminal justice system.

Many Black and Brown women who experience domestic violence not only face criminalization by the system but are also routinely denied necessary services and not treated as human beings. The current government and non-community-centered nonprofit services are often inaccessible and inefficient, as many Black and Brown women cannot access them because of qualification restrictions, gatekeeping, discriminatory practices, and other biases.

As a survivor, I have personally experienced difficulty accessing resources and safe spaces through government services, which not only denied services but also coerced me into not applying for certain benefits because I would not make a strong case. I have learned from my experiences that instead of relying on government services to keep us safe, we need to invest in community-led non-punitive programs to provide those support services and community resources that we need to heal from our traumas and rebuild our lives. I am personally dedicated to following abolitionist and transformative justice-based approaches to accountability, which involves creating systems of care that reduce harm and support people in surviving and thriving without relying on harmful government services and systems.

We must dismantle these systemic injustices by shutting down jails and prisons and investing in transformative justice. The abuse-to-prison pipeline must be addressed through non-punitive programs and community resources that prioritize the safety and well-being of survivors of violence. Dismantling the system also means shutting down King County Jail — both adult and youth — and providing resources to survivors of abuse and violence instead of sending them back into these brutal cages.

It is essential that we work towards ending violence against women in all its forms, including but not limited to dowry-related violence, emotional abuse, financial control, physical violence, sexual violence, stalking and harassment, and human trafficking.

We as women are powerful, and each one of us deserves respect, autonomy to choose, and safety, free from biased societal expectations. It is crucial that we focus on providing support services and centering the needs of those who are marginalized and affected by oppressive systems. I believe that to reimagine a world without cops and prisons, we must prioritize funding community-based services that prioritize the needs of survivors and provide a safe and supportive environment for healing and recovery.

Together, we must work towards ending all forms of violence against women and creating a world that is just and equitable.

The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that differing perspectives do not negate mutual respect amongst community members.

The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.

Ruba Ayub is an organizer, filmmaker, and poet. Ruba is also a cofounder of Youth Voices for Justice — a youth-led coalition in South King County — and a founder of Love is Transformational. You can find more about Ruba on Instagram @rubadabest__.

📸 Featured Image: Photo via simona pilolla 2/

Before you move on to the next story …
The South Seattle Emerald is brought to you by Rainmakers. Rainmakers give recurring gifts at any amount. With over 1,000 Rainmakers, the Emerald is truly community-driven local media. Help us keep BIPOC-led media free and accessible. 
If just half of our readers signed up to give $6 a month, we wouldn't have to fundraise for the rest of the year. Small amounts make a difference. 
We cannot do this work without you. Become a Rainmaker today!