When is Justice Just?

Major trigger warnings: I’ll be bringing up my experiences of sexual abuse as minimally as I can. Take care of yourself and read only what you’re comfortable with.

I spend a lot of time still doubting my own experiences even though I have many people affirming my experiences and vouch that I did nothing wrong. I’m afraid that by writing this, there’ll be a backlash and that my abuser will pop up at my door with a bunch of ninja lawyers or something. But I feel like this is an important topic to bring up. I know far too many people scarred  by people who are still in their lives. Cops are rarely the answer, but something must be done. Like tons of QTPOC, poor, and other marginalized folks have been saying, we need change how we do justice. We need justice that is multifacted, supports survivors, and aims towards healing instead of only incarcerating people and calling it done.

A couple years ago, I was coerced into sex with men at the hands of someone who I saw as a mentor, an older sister, a colleague, and a friend. It only happened twice, but it left scars on my soul that I don’t have the resources to heal. I originally didn’t see it as a form of sexual abuse. After all, I consented to it, and it didn’t leave any lasting damage on my body. I was more concerned with the gaslighting I was experiencing and gaining autonomy of my life and my housing again. I’m incredibly lucky to be surrounded by many brilliant queers and honorary queers who’ve also been through hell and back. Separately, they flagged that there was something fishy with being asked, then wheedled to have sex with men not of my choosing. A few friends called this sex trafficking, a few others disagreed with that choice of word. I don’t know what to call what happened to me besides devastating.

What my community collective consciousness could agree with is that she was probably making money off me. I can’t confirm this since I can’t and won’t ever speak to my abuser again. I guess I’m going to call this non-consensual sex work for lack of a better term.

At the time I wrote this, my Facebook feed was filled with the failure to punish Jian Ghomeshi for his numerous sexual assaults and Black Lives Matter‘s rallying to hold the Toronto police accountable for the murder of Jermaine CarbyAndrew Loku, and many other black and other marginalized folks. When the prevailing attitude is to not believe survivors (of sexual assault and police brutality) or to cover up the crimes of those who have immense power, it’s hard to muster up the energy to feel that your experiences are valid. Especially when you’re BIPOC, trans, queer, disabled, fat, and especially poor.

I didn’t and would never access the justice system to deal with my abuser unless she came at me with the intent to kill or harm me. Not only would I never want to put a black trans woman anywhere near a prison under most circumstances, but I fear the violence in which I would have to endure as another marginalized person in order to receive “justice”.

I feel cognitive dissonance over my abuse. On the one hand, I’m a white-passing Eurasian, disabled, transfeminine person who at the time, had access to a little bit of money, and safe housing. I have this gut reaction that I’d be doing something wrong if I tried to hold accountable my abuser who as I mentioned is a black trans woman, poor, and a sex worker. Yet if this were a white cishet man with access to tons of privilege, there’d be no hesitation that I would be doing something wrong.

Justice and accountability are really complex and abstract. Even if I had a way to hold my abuser accountable, I wouldn’t know what that would like. Have her leave me alone and never talk to/about me again? Yet that doesn’t feel right. It sits like sludge in my belly, heavy and roiling. What about the other young people who I know were also preyed upon by my abuser? How do I heal from losing a part of me?

The issues I feel are connected to, but also different from BLM’s work to combat police brutality and Jian Ghomeshi’s trial. All are questions of justice and the systems of power that impede justice for marginalized folks. All are related to the flawed ways we think justice is served and how accountability is done. And there are definitely numerous alternatives to conceptualize justice and accountability. I wish that the violence I faced was simpler.

Maybe it’s a flaw of how we do anti-oppressive politics. We’re so busy looking at the hierarchies of identity politics and forget that we can be terrible to each other. And I know that we are terrible to each other. I’m no innocent. I’ve hurt others. But that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be held accountable for my actions just because I’m a mixed race, disabled transfeminine person. This brings the point back to though, how do we hold ourselves and each other accountable?

I’m not an expert who knows a lot about justice. I took a human rights class in my first year that only briefly covered different ways of doing justice. I read, “The Revolution Starts at Home” after the non-consensual sex work thing happened. I attended a total of one panel discussion on transformative and restorative justice. My thoughts aren’t well-informed by much more than some discussions I’ve had with some friends and ruminating on experiences that I’ve seen.

What I can say is that there are limitations with every way we do justice. Transformative and restorative justice is useful for some community healing, but I could never imagine myself sitting in a room with my abuser and hashing out what happened. I’ve already had to do that and it wasn’t pretty. #gaslighting

What do we do when someone either is not willing to negotiate? Or pretends to negotiate? Or gaslights to derail the process? What do we do with the people who we just cannot make community with? I’ve heard of shunning and expulsion. I’ve heard of making common knowledge who to be wary of.

How do we deal with murder and the injustices of attempts to cover up evidence and protect perpetrators who are privileged by those who privileged?

I don’t know any of these answers. We need to have more discussions on justice and how we deal with things that happen within and to our communities. I think the seeds of possibility are also found in our media. Shows like, “My Little Pony” and “Steven Universe” sometimes show moments of great compassion and amazing conflict resolution that doesn’t require brute force or violence. Although there are some situations where I feel enacting violence can be justified, it’s not something I want to turn to immediately.

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