A brilliant springboard to start your own independent research.
TW: Sexual abuse/violence.
Judith Levine and Erica R. Meiners’s The Feminist and the Sex Offender: Confronting Sexual Harm, Ending State Violence tells us the all-too-familiar story of a victim not being taken seriously and feeling that they cannot report the perpetrator. Drawing on the stories of victims from all walks of life, Levine and Meiners remind us of not only the hardships of those who have experienced sexual harm but opened up the conversation to emphasise which groups are most likely experience sexual violence i.e. women of colour, LGBTQ+ people (especially trans or gender-nonconforming people) and disabled people). Even then, Levine and Meiners took the issue another step further.
In light of the recent BLM protests and the consequent rush to get educated on our current system from race relations, to our justice system, to the police, this books shows us a perspective that is challenging and pushes us our boundaries of taste. This is the book that introduced me to abolitionist feminism, (a branch of feminism that also advocates for the abolition of the current prison system, especially in the USA) by chucking me straight into the deep end and identifying the dilemma of what we, as feminists, should do about sex offenders.
The Me Too movement in recent years has taken down now-infamous perpetrators of sexual assault and coercion such as Harvey Weinstein and R. Kelly, finally. This has been broadened from men in Hollywood to those we know personally: workplace harassment, etiquette on public transport, even arguments with our male relatives. However, in the endeavour to hold perpetrators of sexual violence responsible, is the American prison system the best way to go about it? Is feeding into the carceral state that has shown itself as a solely punitive (not rehabilitative) institution the best way to not only deal with the harm caused by sexual offenders but to prevent future harm to both victims and the perpetrator themselves? It is important to note that the British prison system is not radically different from America’s when we consider the function of our prisons: deterrence, retribution, and punishment.
Levine and Meiners cover all bases by explaining the history and theory of abolitionist feminism, but also the intersection of race and gender when we look at who exactly is an abolitionist feminist and who is a carceral feminist. They also explain the current caveats in current attempts to protect people from sex offenders such as the sex offender registry and the medicalisation of criminality. If you are looking for a book to ease you into abolitionist feminism, this book gets to the core of the issue without drowning you with inaccessible jargon. I’m definitely not saying that this is the book to both ignite and extinguish your curiosity, there are better known abolitionist feminists who are freely available online such as Angela Y. Davis, but this book is a comprehensive introduction to these issues.
In terms of the format of the book, there were certain touches that I greatly appreciated. There were text boxes showing the personal dialogue between Levine and Meiners displaying their thought process when writing the book. I also loved that further conversation is encouraged in this book, and an air of intellectual vulnerability invited the reader to develop their own thoughts on the matter. The chapters are fairly digestible, even if the bluntness of the language can disturb one’s sensibilities (imagine my shock). Overall, this is not the book to quench your curiosity, but it is the book to get you thinking about our carceral state and what we ought to do about it.