Resisting Gender Violence and the Prison Industrial Complex
--An interview with Victoria Law
By Angola 3 News
Victoria Law is a longtime prison activist and the author of the 2009 book, Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women (PM Press). Law's essay "Sick of the Abuse: Feminist Responses to Sexual Assault, Battering, and Self Defense," is featured in the new book, entitled The Hidden 1970s: Histories of Radicalism, edited by Dan Berger.
In this interview, Law discusses her new article, which provides a history of radical feminist resistance to the criminalization of women who have defended themselves from gender violence. Furthermore, Law presents a prison abolitionist critique of how the mainstream women's movement has embraced the US criminal justice system as a solution for combating violence against women.
Angola 3 News: In your essay "Sick of the Abuse," you write that "a woman's right to defend herself (and her children) from assault became a feminist rallying point throughout the 1970s." You focus on the four separate stories of Yvonne Wanrow, Inez Garcia, Joan Little, and Dessie Woods. All four women were arrested for self-defense and their cases received national attention with the support of the radical women's movement. Can you briefly explain their cases and why they were so important for the women's liberation movement of the 1970s?
Victoria Law: Yvonne Wanrow was an American Indian mother of two living in WashingtonState in the 1970s. In 1972, her 11-year-old son was grabbed from his bike by William Wesler, a known child molester. He escaped and fled to the house of a family friend named Shirley Hooper, whose 7-year-old daughter had been raped by Wesler earlier that year. When Hooper called the police, they refused to arrest Wesler.
Understandably shaken, Hooper called Yvonne Wanrow and asked her to spend the night. Wanrow, who was 5 foot, 4 inches, and had recently broken her leg, brought her gun. At five in the morning, Wesler came to their house. When he refused to leave, Wanrow went to the front door to yell for help. She turned around to find Wesler, who, at 6 foot 2, was towering over her. She shot and killed him.
At her first trial, the judge instructed the jury only to consider what had happened at or immediately before the killing. This omitted (1) Wesler's record as a sex offender; (2) Wesler's assault on Hooper's 7 year old; (3) His attempted assault on Yvonne's son