Survivors & The Criminal Justice System

At a time where intimate partner homicides are on the rise, domestic violence doesn’t get much mainstream attention. When it does, narratives focus on a survivor’s helplessness, often blaming them for being in and staying in abusive relationships. Even less attention is paid to survivors of domestic violence who are criminalized and incarcerated for defending themselves or fighting back.

Cyntoia Brown was institutionalized in Tennessee at age 16 for killing a 43-year-old man who solicited sex from her; she was afraid this man would shoot her. Then a minor, Brown testified that she had been trafficked and forced into street-based sex work by her older, violent boyfriend. She received a life sentence for murder. After spending 15 years -  more than half her life -- in prison, and with the help of a national, multi-year campaign, Brown was granted clemency and walked free this August.

Brown’s story is unfortunately not uncommon. It’s unclear exactly how many survivors of violence are incarcerated for self-defense acts or acts related to abuse, but it is estimated that 77 percent of incarcerated women are survivors of domestic violence (compared to 1 in 4 women who are survivors in the general US population). The population of incarcerated women has increased 50 percent faster than the population of incarcerated men, and in 2018, there were 219,000 women in US prisons and jails. A disproportionate percent of this population are poor, members of the LGBT community, and women of color.

“In a perverse twist of justice, many girls who experience sexual abuse are routed into the juvenile justice system because of their victimization.” The crimes that most often lead to young girls’ institutionalization - survival work, running away, substance use, truancy - are symptoms of having experienced violence and abuse. Involvement with the criminal justice system, especially at such a young age, has severe consequences. When the criminal justice system does not consider the trauma that leads girls to committing crimes, it punishes them as perpetrators instead of supporting them as survivors. 

When survivors are seen as perpetrators, the harm inflicted upon them is minimized and ignored, and the perpetrators face no consequences. Women who are incarcerated are more likely to experience poor mental and physical health outcomes and experience additional violence in the system. Eighty percent of incarcerated women are mothers and the primary caregivers in their families. And even when an individual is granted clemency, like Brown, there is often a long uphill battle for retribution, criminal records are not automatically expunged, and survivors face parole or probation requirements that can re-victimize and re-traumatize the individual. Brown, whose parole is set to last 10 years, is required to meet certain conditions under state supervision. If she violates these conditions, she could return to prison to carry out the rest of her sentence.

Survivors should be recipients of unconditional support, love, and opportunities for healing. Instead, they can face a criminal justice system that contributes to their re-victimization. Cyntoia Brown is one of thousands of survivors who deserved better. The movement to end domestic violence starts with raising the voices of more young survivors like Brown and challenging systems that maintain unjust patterns of violence in which women of color in particular are left with little access to opportunity. When we center these survivors, we break the cycles of silence and support their pathways to justice.

As a community...

November 14, 2018

Throughout October (Domestic Violence Awareness Month), we came together as change makers to end domestic violence in San Francisco.

Over 2,000 individuals connected with La Casa through 120 outreach and education events.

90 volunteers logged 320 hours to support women and children fleeing violence in our city.

360 attendees, 22 corporate sponsors, 23 individual sponsors, and hundreds of in-kind donors helped us raise over $180,000 by getting redHOT* for change.

While our work isn’t done just yet, one thing is clear: the movement we are building together is stronger than any one individual, organization or moment. We hope that through the coming holiday season, and in the New Year, we will continue to stand together, undivided, against domestic violence. 

La Casa Named “2017 Top-Rated Nonprofit”

La Casa de las Madres has been named a “2017 TOP-RATED NONPROFIT” by GreatNonprofits Award based on Outstanding Online Reviews.

We are honored to be named a 2017 Top-Rated Nonprofit by our supporters — employees, volunteers, donors and community members. Our work in the San Francisco Bay Area is helping to build futures free from fear and abuse. It takes a community working together to create a world where violence is not tolerated. We are thankful to our community for recognizing our hard work and dedication.

In the last year we answered 8,881 hotline calls, provided shelter, safety and refuge to 435 child and adult survivors, and provided direct intervention via counseling, case management and advocacy to 4,434 survivors of domestic violence. Additionally, we reached over 3,544 adults, teens and professionals with educational workshops about domestic violence. 7,943 individuals engaged with La Casa via 342 outreach events.

We are proud of our capacity and reach,  and honored by this award from GreatNonprofits.

The complete list of 2017 Top Rated Nonprofits can be found here.