A downloadable toolkit for organizing defense campaigns for criminalized survivors of violence.
#SurvivedAndPunished: Survivor Defense as Abolitionist Praxis is a collection of tools, tips, lessons and resources developed through our own experiences. It is also an effort to document and reflect on our own movement work. It is important for us to document especially because our organizing work has been led by Black women, women of color, immigrants and queer/trans people, who are so often erased from history. We hope to preserve some of these histories, build solidarity, and share hope as we continue our collective struggle.
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And Help End the Criminalization of Survivors
Shantonio Hunter is a black mother and survivor of domestic violence from Nashville who is being unjustly prosecuted for the death of her three-year-old son Elijah because she was unable to control her abuser. She has been incarcerated for the past four years while awaiting trial for charges of felony murder, aggravated child abuse and child neglect. She has been incarcerated for the past four years while awaiting trial for charges of felony murder, aggravated child abuse and child neglect.
Community advocates are organizing and urging Nashville DA Glenn Funk to dismiss all charges against Shantonio so that she can begin to grieve, heal and rebuild her life. They welcome organizations to endorse the letter by contacting them at email@example.com.
For more background on the criminalization of survivors through “failure to protect” laws and charges, see: “Child Abuse by Omission: How American Law Holds Mothers Responsible for Their Partners’ Crimes,” “Battered, Bereaved, and Behind Bars,”and “Why is California Keeping Kelly Savage in Prison for a Crime She Didn’t Commit?”
How You Can Support the Effort to #FreeShantonio Now:
1. Love Letters to Shantonio: Send her a note of support and encouragement as she heads to trial next week.
5115 Harding Pl.
Nashville, TN 37211
2. Write the DA’s Office: Send an e-mail to Davidson County District Attorney General Glenn R. Funk (firstname.lastname@example.org) urging him to dismiss all charges against Shantonio because:
- Prosecuting Shantonio goes against the city and DA’s Office’s professed commitment to better serve victims of domestic violence in Nashville.
- It is victim blaming to punish victims of domestic violence for the actions of their abusers.
- The most dangerous time for victims of domestic violence is when they try to leave.
- Shantonio did not “fail to protect” her child, she was unable to control a person who used abusive power against her and her child.
- Domestic violence is isolating and it is common for victims of domestic violence to hide the abuse from others. Prosecuting survivors only further isolates them from the resources that they need.
- Prosecuting and incarcerating domestic violence victims puts courts and prisons in the same punitive role as their batterers.
3. Court Support: Come to court and show community support for Shantonio. We would especially like to have people there in support for her on Monday, July 3rd, at 9 AM. Her trial will likely begin the second week of July.
Justice A.A. Birch Building
408 2nd Ave. N.
Nashville, TN 37201
Court and parking directions, here.
May 26, 2017
District Attorney General Glenn R. Funk
Washington Square, Suite 500
222 2 nd Avenue North
Nashville, TN 37201
Dear Mr. Funk,
As you well know, domestic violence is a persistent problem in Nashville, one which your office has committed to address by dedicating specialized assistant DA’s and a new division for domestic violence cases. And yet, Nashville continues to fail domestic violence victims because we continue to jail and prosecute them, as is the case for Shantonio Hunter who is currently being prosecuted for the actions of her abuser. Nashville can and must do better. For this reason, we the undersigned local, state and national organizations, urge you to dismiss all charges against Shantonio so that she can begin to grieve, heal and rebuild her life.
Incarcerated for the past four years while awaiting trial for charges of felony murder, aggravated child abuse and child neglect, Shantonio faces life in prison for “failing to protect” her three-year-old son Elijah, a charge that completely disregards the profound lack of control victims have while in abusive relationships. Domestic violence victims who try to protect their children from the abuse are often dangerously trapped in situations with no safe options. It is a well-documented fact that leaving the relationship is the most dangerous time for victims of domestic violence. Domestic violence is especially lethal for black women like Shantonio who
are about three times more likely to die at the hands of a current or ex-partner than victims of other racial backgrounds. Among black women killed by a partner, almost half were killed while in the process of leaving . And, though domestic violence and child abuse frequently overlap, victims like Shantonio are often held responsible for the abuse of their partner. Shantonio did not “fail to protect” her child, she was unable to control a person who used abusive power against her and her child.
Punishing Shantonio for essentially being a victim of domestic violence who was not only herself abused, but also tragically lost her child to this violence, is truly unconscionable. Prosecuting and incarcerating domestic violence victims puts courts and prisons in the same punitive role as their batterers, which compounds and prolongs victims’ experience of ongoing trauma and abuse. Criminalizing survivors only further isolates them from the community resources they desperately need. As Shantonio Hunter’s trial date quickly approaches, we urge you to take a step towards ending the criminalization of survivors by dismissing all charges against her. If Nashville is to be a city truly concerned with the safety of victims of domestic violence, then that concern and compassion must extend to all victims.
Participatory Defense Nashville and Free Hearts
Black Lives Matter Nashville
Democracy Nashville-Democratic Communities
Faith Matters Network
Healthy and Free Tennessee
Memphis Feminist Collective
Nashville Feminist Collective
Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) Nashville
A.L. Costa Community Development (Union City, CA)
Black Women’s Center for Carceral Empowerment
California Coalition for Women Prisoners
The Change Project
Families for Justice as Healing
From Life to Life
Justice for Families
The Ladies of Hope Ministries (New York, NY)
Let’s Start Inc. (St. Louis, MO)
Mommie Activist and Sons
Moms United Against Violence and Incarceration (Chicago, IL)
Montgomery County Community Action Development Commission (Montgomery Co., PA)
New Beginnings Reentry Services, Inc. (Boston, MA)
The Real Costs of Prisons Project
Resource Information Help for the Disadvantaged and Disenfranchised
Sex Workers Allies Network
Stand Up Baltimore
Survived and Punished
Witness to Mass Incarceration
Women Who Never Give Up
Youth Justice Coalition
May 8, 2017
15-year-old domestic violence survivor, Bresha Meadows, was offered a plea deal at a pretrial hearing this morning at the Trumbull County Juvenile Court in Ohio. While the details of the proposed deal have not been finalized, our understanding of the terms is that Bresha will be under state control for a total of 18 months. This includes 9 months she has already spent behind bars and an additional 9 months of incarceration in a “treatment facility.” Bresha’s attorney hopes Bresha will be transferred from juvenile detention to the treatment center by May 22nd at the latest. A pre-trial hearing is scheduled for May 22nd. Bresha’s record, as it relates to this case, would be sealed on her eighteenth birthday.
Without a plea deal, Bresha would face an aggravated murder charge for defending herself and her mother against the unrelenting abuse of her father, Jonathan Meadows. A conviction for aggravated murder could result in Bresha remaining incarcerated until she turns 21.
While the #FreeBresha campaign believes Bresha should have access to affordable healthcare services that will support her well-being, we contend that care should not be offered in the context of punishment. Based on Bresha’s earlier statements that her time in the treatment facility allowed her more access to her family, we are hopeful that the treatment facility will at least be an improvement from juvenile detention. However, we maintain that being forced to be at a facility is not freedom and it is not care. It is also unclear if Bresha’s family would be forced to pay for mental health services ordered by the court in the context of continued incarceration.
We also reject the manipulation of plea deals that force people to submit to imprisonment out of fear of longer sentences, regardless of their circumstances. Marissa Alexander, a black woman domestic violence survivor who was criminalized for self-defense, was bullied into taking a three-year plea deal with the threat of a 60 year sentence behind bars although she fully contended that she was innocent of the charges against her. Threats of prolonged sentences that force people into submitting to state confinement is a form of manipulative state violence that must end.
Finally, Bresha’s plea deal does nothing to transform the systemic failures that led to her imprisonment. Police and family services failed to support Bresha, essentially forcing her back into her violent home. How will these systems account for these failures, including offering restitution to Bresha Meadows and her family? What transformations will be secured to prevent the same failures from impacting the lives of other young people? How will we, as communities, account for our failure to protect children like Bresha, and ensure that fewer children are faced with desperate choices? We demand that all survivors have the right to defend their lives, especially Black girls and other youth of color who are targeted for punishment and criminalization. We also demand systemic change and accountability to truly support the lives of young people, including fully funded healthcare, affordable housing, and all of the social and economic resources it will take to truly reduce and transform all forms of gender violence.
We believe wholeheartedly that Bresha’s case would not have come this far without the mass mobilization of thousands of supporters in Warren, across the United States, and around the world. Young people are regularly punished and brutalized by the system behind closed doors, and Bresha’s case is a classic example of the ways our society punishes children for its own failures. Fortunately, Bresha’s case also provides an example of the powerful impact of mass action, including how to interrupt the normalization of violence against Black children and the violence of child incarceration. The Free Bresha campaign will continue to push for Bresha’s freedom until she is truly free. We ask all who support her to do the same. It is crucial that we continue to act in solidarity with Bresha and her family, and that we continue to raise the critical issues that her case illuminates. We must love and protect all children, especially those most vulnerable to violence, and we must defend our young people against the violence of incarceration.