Community safety and alternatives to the criminal legal system


There are currently limited strategies that a survivor has available to them when navigating harm, because too many of our current strategies that purport to protect the safety of survivors are rooted in the criminal legal system. This means that: police serve as responders in situations they are often not trained to handle and, in turn, exacerbate the trauma of the survivor; the burden of legal proof falls on the survivor in situations where there are often only two witnesses—the perpetrator and the survivor; and our methods of resolving violence lead to incarceration over survivor-centered, community-driven accountability or healing processes. Moreover, 1 in 4 women (24%) reported they had been arrested or threatened with arrest during a partner abuse incident or while reporting a sexual assault incident to the police. Additionally, sexual misconduct claims accounted for the second-highest category of complaints against law enforcement officers, after use of excessive force, meaning the very systems tasked with providing safety often perpetuate harm and fail survivors.

The ability to access support is even more challenging if you are a survivor of color, low to no income, queer, transgender or gender nonconforming, an immigrant, or are a part of another marginalized community. And, not only do we have to look out for our own safety, but oftentimes we are also navigating complicated familial and community situations, while also holding the trauma of others. Most of the existing strategies fail at helping survivors through the complex journey of both the abuse and the healing journey ahead.

Our solutions and strategies to address harm must center survivors at every point—from disclosure, to recovery, to restoration. Survivors of sexual violence have the right to feel safe, secure, and protected in their homes and communities. Survivors are and have always been resilient in the face of their violence and abuse. We deserve trauma-informed services with skilled workers trained in the specific emotional and physical needs of survivors, and courageous communities to take up the mantle of safety, accountability, and justice. Survivors need solutions that protect them from immediate harm, as well as solutions to prevent the root causes of violence.


  1. A reimagining of how communities address safety that includes creative prevention strategies and intervention strategies that center the voices and needs of survivors first.
  2. Ending the criminalization of survivors and people who defend themselves against harm doers and abusive partners.
  3. Development and investment in expanding culturally-rooted, community-based programs that allow community members to address the issue of sexual violence without police involvement or state intervention, including mental health services, family and trauma-informed counseling, restorative justice strategies, the child welfare and foster care systems, and investments in transformative justice and community accountability processes made available to all survivors. (Examples of Transformative Justice Community Based Collectives: Philly Stands Up, Safe Neighborhood Campaign and Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective)
  4. Ensure that immigrant survivors and survivors fleeing gender-based violence from their countries of origin have access to safety and services and are able to access critical immigration remedies in a timely manner (such as the Violence Against Women Act self-petition, U visa, T visa, asylum or refugee protections) that enable them to move toward healing and well-being without fear of detention or deportation. Enact policies that remove requirements of engaging with the criminal legal system in order to obtain a U visa and eliminate policies that promote ICE entanglement with local law enforcement, which undermines victim safety.
  5. Decrease barriers to victim compensation across the nation and increase deposits into the Crime Victims Fund so that the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) can continue to be available to provide lifesaving and healing services.
  6. Greater accountability for convicted offenders (including law enforcement), that centers the need of survivors.
  7. Provide funding to methods of addressing violence against survivors that are outside of the criminal legal system and that are survivor-centered and hold harm doers responsible for the harm caused. Any participation in the criminal justice system should be at the discretion of the survivor, not the prosecutor or law enforcement. (Restorative Justice Example: Restorative Justice Project in Contra Costa County)
  8. Investments in community crisis teams who are skilled in de-escalation strategies and techniques and are equipped to respond to sexual violence and intimate partner violence, including credible messengers and culturally-relevant and trauma-informed mental health counselors and social workers.
  9. An investment in the prevention of sexual violence by addressing root causes, such as poverty, the lack of employment opportunities, access to transportation, comprehensive harm reduction services for drug and alcohol abuse, and addressing societal norms that support the abuse of power, rape culture, white supremacy, and patriarchal violence. Meaningful investments in prevention are the most effective strategies, especially sexual health education at every grade level (K-12) that teaches people about the importance of boundaries, bodily autonomy for young people, social-emotional skills, and the importance of building cultures of consent. Dismantling abstinence-only education, which often overlooks intimate-partner violence, and teaching about healthy relationships. See additional resources.


Our work is survivor-centered and survivor-led, focused on strategies and tactics that support those harmed by sexual violence to survive, heal, and take action in service of creating systemic change that interrupts, prevents, and ends sexual violence.

Safe exit